To help mark the arrival of this year’s second United States Air Mail stamp, which will be issued Saturday, Aug. 11, here are five more facts about airmail service.
1. A “Flying Schoolgirl” was among the pioneering pilots. Katherine Stinson became the first woman to fly U.S. Mail when she dropped mailbags from her plane at the Montana State Fair in 1913, at the age of 22. Nicknamed the “Flying Schoolgirl,” Stinson later became the first woman to fly both an experimental mail route from Chicago to New York and the regular route from New York to Washington, DC.
2. Will Rogers was an airmail fan. In 1928, the humorist penned a tribute in the St. Louis Times to Bill Hopson, an airmail pilot who was killed in a crash. “Here’s hoping you are piloting the best cloud the Boss has got in his hangar up there,” Rogers wrote.
3. One airmail pilot is credited with saving the service. Jack Knight flew two legs of an airmail trip from San Francisco to New York — over an unfamiliar route, at night, through a storm — helping set a cross-country record of 33 hours, 20 minutes. Congress, at the time weighing the possibility of halting airmail funding, subsequently increased funding, prompting some to call Knight “the hero who saved airmail.”
4. Flying the mail was dangerous. Crashes, poor weather and limited plane technology contributed to a high pilot fatality rate during the early years of airmail service. In 1919, one pilot died for every 97,493 miles flown. Several years later, the number dropped to one pilot death for every 1.3 million miles flown.
5. International mail flights began in 1920. While domestic airmail service began in 1918, airplanes weren’t used to transport U.S. Mail internationally until 1920, when routes to Victoria, BC, and Havana, Cuba, were established.