There was no Blue Angels flyover, but there were still plenty of planes overhead in the atrium of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, where dozens gathered Tuesday for the unveiling of the U.S. Postal Service’s “Air Mail Blue” stamp and the opening of the museum’s “Postmen of the Skies” exhibit.
The stamp, printed in blue and donning a classical look, celebrates the 100th anniversary of the U.S. airmail service and features a drawing of a Curtiss JN-4H biplane.
Another stamp with the same design but printed in red will be issued Aug. 11 in College Park, Maryland to commemorate the transfer of airmail service from the U.S. Army to the Post Office Department.
“Airmail service has been one of our organization’s most significant contributions to America’s growth,” said Postal Service Vice President of Supply Management Susan Brownell. “Single-person flights, carrying bags of mail from one city to another, eventually led to a world-shaping passenger aviation industry and transportation network.”
The Postmen of the Skies exhibit explores the beginning of the U.S. airmail service and the pilots who first flew the mail. The exhibit features items worn by the airmail pilots and tells their stories.
“Our new exhibition invites visitors to witness and experience the birth of commercial aviation,” Director of the National Postal Museum Elliot Gruber said. “Actually, one of the pilots featured in the exhibition flew the De Havilland DH-4 airplane that hangs above our heads right here.”
The exhibit also displays a 1929 airmail board game in which “players rolled dice to move forward and the first pilot to deliver their six letters won the game,” according to the exhibit.
The U.S. airmail service began May 15, 1918 when “a small group of Army pilots delivered mail along a route that linked Washington, Philadelphia, and New York City,” according to the Postal Service.
Head Curator Nancy Pope detailed the story of the first airmail flight.
“Unfortunately for the Post Office, [pilot George] Boyle didn’t head north. He headed southeast and crashed in Waldorf, Maryland,” she said. “His mail was put on a truck to DC and unceremoniously put on a train to New York City. Fortunately, for the Post Office Department, the other three pilots did a magnificent job that day.”
Those three delivered the mail successfully.
Bill Harris, deputy director of Air Force history and museums policies and programs at the Pentagon, noted, ““[The airmail operation] helped redefine the use of aircraft and its role in military doctrine that would be sorely tested in the skies above Europe and the Pacific during the second world war and beyond.”
Today, the Postal Service still uses planes to fly the mail but does not have an official airmail service. The organization uses contractors to carry airmail.
by Tasos Kalfas, @TasosKalfasWRGW