The collection consists of photographs taken during the first years of the United States Post Office Department air mail service. Many of these photographs are portraits of individual air mail service pilots. The first use of air mail in the United States occurred in September, 1911, while the first air mail route from Washington to New York via Philadelphia started in 1918. A transcontinental route was established by 1920. In 1925 the government transitioned out of the air mail business with the passage of the Kelly Air Mail Act, which called for commericial airlines to bid on air mail routes established by the Post Office.
The first use of air mail in the United States occurred in September, 1911 from Garden City, New York to Mineola, New York. Other experimental airmail flights occurred in that year and successive years. In 1918, Congress appropriated funds to set up an experimental air mail route, which happened on May 15, 1918 with the establishment of a route between New York City and Washington, D.C. with a stopover in Philadelphia. Although initially operated with the cooperation of the War Department, the Post Office Department assumed full control of this service later that year. With the success of this air mail route, plans were made to complete a transcontinental route from New York to San Francisco. By September 8, 1920 the final and most Western leg of this route - Omaha, Nebraska to San Francisco - was put into operation. Congress passed the Kelly Air Mail Act in 1925, which got the government out of the air mail business. It required private carriers to bid on Contract Air Mail (CAM) routes set up by the Post Office.
Some of the planes that were used in air mail service include Curtiss JN 4H, with Wright engine, 150 h.p.; Standard JR-1B, with Wright engine, 150 h.p.; Curtiss R-4-L, with Liberty-12 engine, 400 h.p.; Curtiss HA, with Liberty-12 engine; Twin D.H. with two Liberty-6 (Hall Scott) engines, 400 h.p.; Martin mail planes, with two Liberty-12 engines, 800 h.p.; Junker (JL-6) with B.M.W. engine, 200 h.p., and L.W.F. (type V) with Isotta Fraschini 250 h.p. engines.
Scope and Content
The collection consists of photographs taken during the first years of the United States Post Office Department air mail service. Many of these photographs are portraits of individual air mail service pilots. Pilot Shirley J. Short appears in several photographs with the Harmon Trophy, an award he received from the American branch of the International League of Aviators for achieving over 2000 consecutive flight hours without mishap. Several photographs taken in 1911 at Garden City, New York, on the occasion of the first official air mail flight, are also part of the collection. Airplanes used by the Air Mail Service appear in many of the images. These include photographs of airplanes being loaded with mail, airplanes in flight and airplanes under construction at a Boeing factory in Seattle.