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Posts Tagged ‘air mail

“It seems a long time since the morning mail could be called correspondence”*…

 

A Curtiss Jenny carrying mail for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, before take off from the polo grounds in Washington, D.C.

On May 15, 1918, as hundreds of thousands of American troops fought from the trenches of Western Europe, a small number of U.S. Army pilots took on a domestic mission. Though they worked in the skies above East Coast cities, far from the carnage of World War I, their task was life-threatening, and it was as crucial to the nation’s psyche as any conflict fought on foreign soil. While their peers carried bombs across the Atlantic, these men carried the mail.

On a gloomy Wednesday morning, thousands of spectators gathered in Washington, D.C.’s Potomac Park to witness what would be the world’s first regularly scheduled airmail service. As the crowd buzzed with excitement, president Woodrow Wilson stood with the pilot, Second Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle. The two men chatted for a few minutes, Wilson in a three-piece suit and bowler hat, Boyle in his leather flying cap, a cigarette in his mouth. The president dropped a letter in Boyle’s sack, and the pilot took off for his journey from Washington, D.C., to New York, with plans to stop in Philadelphia for delivery and refueling. The flight, however, never made it to the City of Brotherly Love.

With only a map laid across his lap to guide him on his northbound journey, Boyle turned southeast shortly after takeoff. Realizing his mistake, he landed in a soft field in Waldorf, Maryland, damaging his propeller. Officials from the United States Post Office Department, the predecessor to the United States Postal Service, drove the load of mail back to D.C., and unceremoniously put it on a train to New York. Two days later, after blowing a second chance to fly the mail north and making an emergency landing in Cape Charles, Virginia, Boyle’s time with the Post Office came to an inglorious end.

Boyle may not have been the Army’s best pilot, but his misadventures highlight just how bold of a decision it was to begin airmail service at a time when flight was still in its infancy. “There was a rather general feeling that aviation was not yet sufficiently advanced to maintain mail schedules by airplanes,” said Otto Praeger, the Second Assistant Postmaster General, in a 1938 interview. “Strangely enough, some well known aircraft manufacturers themselves doubted the advisability of embarking upon a regular airmail service, and a number of them came to Washington to urge me not to undertake the project.” But Praeger stayed the course, determined to make airmail “like the steamship and the railroad, a permanent transportation feature of the postal service.”

Unfortunately, indelibly changing the nature of mail delivery came with serious risk for the pilots involved. Of the roughly 230 men who flew mail for the Post Office Department between 1918 and 1927, 32 lost their lives in plane crashes. Six died during the first week of operation alone…

Smithsonian reports on a new exhibition at the National Postal Museum honoring the nation’s first airmail pilots: “Delivering the Mail Was Once One of the Riskiest Jobs in America.”

* Jacques Barzun

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As we muse on our missives, we might recall that it was on this date in 1844 that inventor (and celebrated painter) Samuel F.B. Morse inaugurated the first technological competitor to the post when he sent the first telegraph message:  “What hath God wrought?”  Morse sent the famous message from the B&O’s Mount Clare Station in Baltimore to the Capitol Building.  (The words were chosen by Annie Ellsworth, the daughter of the U.S. Patent Commissioner, from Numbers 23:23.)

Morse’s original apparatus

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Written by LW

May 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

This way…

 

In the 1920s, America began coast-to-coast Airmail service, but the pioneer pilots had trouble navigating the route, since navigation charts of the day were fugazi and you couldn’t exactly pull over to ask a farmer for directions. And traveling at night, when it would have been most efficient, or in bad weather was impossible. To solve this Congress then funded these gi-normous arrow-shaped Airmail Beacons, some up to 70 feet long, to trace a route across the country.

The arrows were painted bright yellow and each was accompanied by a tower up to 50 feet in height. At the top of each tower was a powerful gas-powered light, and at the bottom of the tower, a shed to hold the gas.

The easily-discernible design made the arrows visible from a distance of ten miles, and each arrow pointed the way towards the next, some three miles distant. That’s according to the Postal Museum; however, this blog claims the towers were 10 miles apart with a 40-mile visibility. It’s possible the former is describing the earlier towers and the latter is describing updated versions.

What’s not in dispute is that the beacon towers are all gone, the steel having been broken up and recycled for America’s World War II effort. But the no-longer-used arrows remain, their paint long since worn off by the elements, the arrows themselves too difficult to make breaking them up worthwhile. And unless Omer Haciomeroglu sends his Concrete Recycling Robots into the American hinterlands, they’ll likely be there forever.

From the always fascinating Core77.

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As we imagine Horace Greeley’s smile, we might recall that it was on this date in 1860 that James Wallace Black, a painter who had turned to photography (his daguerreotype of abolitionist John Brown hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery), took the first aerial photography captured in the U.S.

Black went up with balloonist Samuel Archer King in King’s hot-air balloon, the Queen of the Air, shooting Boston at 1,200 feet (8 plates of glass negative; 10 1/16 x 7 15/16 in).  One good print resulted, which Black entitled “Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It”– the first clear aerial image of a city anywhere.

“Boston, as the Eagle and the Wild Goose See It”

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From Black’s obit in “Wilsons Photographic Magazine,” March 1896

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Written by LW

October 13, 2013 at 1:01 am

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