Happy 100th Birthday Airmail

first flight, Pres. Wilson, enactment of landing
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‘A Suicide Club’: How WWI Pilots Pioneered the Age of Airmail

Dangerous early years

Early Jenny inverted stamp record value

Airlines still carrying letters and packages 


The nascent years of US commercial aviation are intertwined with the saga of airmail. Initial efforts to expedite the delivery of mail by using airplanes started as early as 1911, but World War I delayed that effort by mandating that aircraft manufacturers send their output for battles in Europe. The Armistice ironically freed up a large inventory of aircraft, primarily the Curtiss JN-4H and then the more powerful JR-1B version, made the carriage of letters feasible and economical.

The history involves twists and turns (military pilots, the postal civilian operations and commercial airlines). The Popular Mechanics article (first link), the National Postal Museum’s exhibit POSTMEN OF THE SKIES
, Flying Magazine’s article USPS Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Airmail Service and other reports about the 100th Birthday are excellent reading. Here are a few images of the brave pioneers—

Air mail has made philately history. To commemorate its 1st Flight, the Post Office issued a stamp series with a picture of the Curtiss Jenny JN-4HM. The cost of sending a letter by air mail was 24¢, considered outrageous since “snail” mail cost 3¢. Then, philatelic history occurred when 100 prints of the Jenny were printed inverted. As with any scarce good, one of these famous stamps became so prized that a set of four sold for $2.7 million (now can be bought for a mere $1,351,250)

On May 1, the U.S. Postal Service will begin a celebration of the 100th anniversary of U.S. scheduled airmail service by issuing a U.S. Airmail Anniversary stamp in Washington, D.C. The nondenominated (50¢) horizontal blue forever stamp shows a Curtiss JN-4H “Jenny” biplane similar to the first planes used by U.S. Army pilots to move the mail by air. A curved banner across the top reads “United States,” while a second banner along the bottom reads “Air Mail.” A ribbon inscribed “Est. 1918” is positioned just below the vignette, which shows the front of the Jenny biplane with its propeller turning.

Today, the airlines still carry mail, but as of 1975 there is no premium for “snail mail.” UPS ($365 million), FedEx ($10.5 billion) and other carriers perform the same services as the Jenny did but in very different aircraft.





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1 Comment on "Happy 100th Birthday Airmail"

  1. They should have printed the Jenny upside down don’t you think?

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