29¢ Moving the Mail
National Postal Museum
Issue Date: July 30, 1993
City: Washington, DC
Printed By: American Bank Note Company
Printing Method: Lithographed and engraved
On May 15, 1918, the Post Office inaugurated its new airmail service. Although it was first suggested planes be used to transport mail in 1910, the idea was way ahead of technology; airplanes were too slow, fragile and unreliable to compete with the mail train. Seven years later however, World War I had proven the usefulness of airplanes, and when it was recommended that an experimental airmail route be established, the Post Office readily agreed.
The Army agreed to provide pilots in order to give its young trainees experience in cross-country flying. A simple 218-mile route was chosen that would offer service to Washington D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. Like any other government venture, the airmail service stemmed from a long tradition of federal support for projects that would improve transportation and communication, making the launching of airmail service more than just a milestone in postal history. The goal of the new service was to prove that mail could be flown on a regular basis, regardless of weather, thus paving the way for transcontinental and eventually transoceanic flights.
Originally designed and outfitted for battle during World War I, the DeHavilland bi-plane became the workhorse of the U.S. Airmail Service by the 1920’s.