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Posts Tagged ‘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

What goes around…

 

The bicycle revolutionized late Victorian and Edwardian society. Between the 1880s and the 1910s, it grew from an expensive fad for the upper classes, to a popular sport, to a marker of freedom for women, and finally, to an affordable mode of transportation for the middle and working classes. The more daring took the riding of the bicycle even further to amazing acrobatic feats atop two pneumatic tyres!

Fancy Cycling, published in 1901, chronicles some of the daring tricks that could be executed on a bicycle…

From the ever-edifying Edwardian Promenade; the photo above is © Shire Publications/Old House, which has just re-released Fancy Cycling.

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As we fixate on fixies, we might recall that it was on this date in 1883 that James Goold Cutler patented the mail chute.  An architect (and later, Mayor of Rochester, NY), Cutler developed the system to allow employees or residents in multi-story buildings– which, with the advent of Otis’ “safe” elevators, were going up in huge numbers– to use a slot on their floor to mail letters which then dropped through a thin shaft to a collection box in the lobby.  Largely extinct now (they had an unfortunate habit of jamming, and then of course, there came email), they were once a standard feature of high-rises.

A Cutler mail chute, still in service as of 2010, in the lobby of the Idaho Building in downtown Boise.

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It was convenient while it lasted…

From the archives of the National Postal Museum

After parcel post service was introduced in 1913, at least two children were sent by the service. With stamps attached to their clothing, the children rode with railway and city carriers to their destination. The Postmaster General quickly issued a regulation forbidding the sending of children in the mail after hearing of those examples.

[TotH to Neatorama]

As we compare the price of an airplane seat to the fee for an extra checked bag, we might recall that it was on this date in 1935 that the world’s first parking meter (Park-O-Meter No. 1, AKA “the Black Maria”) was installed on the southeast corner of what was then First Street and Robinson Avenue in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  The design, by Holger George Thuesen and Gerald A. Hale, was done for Carl Magee, who patented and installed the device.

Magee, a journalist who’d earlier helped expose the Teapot Dome Scandal, and whose day job in 1935 was editor of the Oklahoma City News, is perhaps best remembered as coiner (more accurately adaptor, from Dante) of publisher E.W. Scripps Company’s motto:  “Give Light and the People Will Find Their Own Way.”

Magee and the Meter (source)

 

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