Airline Expansion and Innovation(1927 - 1941)

Air Mail Service Takes Root

The new U.S. Air Mail Service proved successful. It soon extended its routes across the continent and its flights around the clock.

Despite some early setbacks, the Air Mail Service completed about 90 percent of its flights. A few months after service began in 1918, the Army withdrew from flying the mail and left the Post Office in charge with its own pilots and aircraft.

By 1920 transcontinental air mail service had begun. By 1924 mail was also being flown at night, thanks to lighted airways the Post Office was creating across the nation.

Coast to Coast

Service Extends from Coast to Coast

Air mail service opened between New York and Chicago in September 1919. Service reached Omaha, Nebraska, the following May. In September 1920 it reached San Francisco.

Compared to moving the mail by train, flying cut coast-to-coast delivery time by about a day. When regular overnight air mail service began in 1924, it slashed delivery time to 29 hours-almost three days faster than by rail.

Sorting Mail
Sorting mail at Hadley Field, New Jersey.
Unloading Mail at Night
Unloading mail during the first transcontinental air mail flight through Omaha.
Air Mail Facilities
A de Havilland DH-4 parked by a hangar and beacon tower. Note the air mail logo on the hangar.


Capt. Lipsner
National Air and Space Museum Archives


Air Transportation Pioneer
Capt. Benjamin Lipsner

Capt. Benjamin Lipsner helped guide the Air Mail Service during its early days. Under Lipsner, it acquired new Standard biplanes and shifted its Washington base of operations to College Park Airport in nearby Maryland, the oldest airport in the world. The service became a proving ground for civil aviation.


Paul Henderson
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Air Transportation Pioneer
Col. Paul Henderson

As Second Assistant Postmaster General, Col. Paul Henderson helped establish overnight air mail service. Under his direction, powerful rotating beacons were placed along the transcontinental route to guide pilots in the dark. He modeled the system after an experimental lighted airway the Army had created between Dayton and Columbus, Ohio.