80 years ago last month, in May 1938, four carrier pigeons went up against
against an Eastern Airlines mail plane in a race to see which method could
cover the 200-mile route from Washington, D.C., to New York faster.
“The wing-weary birds, their feathers
drooping, swooped down on [the] Journal and American Building a half hour
before their man-made competitor slithered to a stop at Newark Airport,”
read the newspaper report.
It was the first Air Mail Week, celebrating
the 20th anniversary of both the airlines and airmail in 1918.
James Farley, Postmaster General during
the President Franklin D. Roosevelt Administration, cooked up Air Mail
Week 1938 as a publicity stunt.
Air Mail Week encouraged every U.S. citizen
to send an airmail letter during the celebration, which ran May 15-21.The
campaign had a catchy slogan: “Receive To-morrow’s mail to-day!”
and a new six-cent airmail stamp to boot.
On May 15, 1918, aviators 1st Lt. Torrey
H. Webb and 2nd Lt. James C. Edgerton utilized Curtiss “Jenny”
JN4s surplus U.S. Army WWI aircraft to move 144 pounds of mail between
Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia.
In the spirit of absolute accuracy, air
mail was first introduced in 1911 at an air meet above Mineola, Long Island,
New York, when pilot Earle Ovington tossed a full mail bag out of his
plane that was picked up by the local Postmaster.
This ad-hoc effort was the first time a
pilot officially carried any U.S. mail.
Delivered LaGuardia Airport
Between 1918-1939, all the air mail bound
for New York landed at Newark Airport.
New Jersey, it turns out, was way ahead of New York in embracing the commercial
potential of aviation, even though many pioneering firsts happened in
New York and particularly over Long Island.
The Need For USPS
It was very simple.
The Post Office (USPS) demanded the fastest
service from aircraft to processing.
The official New York City airport at the
time was Floyd Bennett Field (FBF).
FBF is located at the end of Flatbush Ave.
in Brooklyn. During that era, pushcarts, horses, and trolley cars crowded
the area and it was about an hours ride away from the General Post Office
(GPO) located at 34th Street and Eighth Ave. in Manhattan. But New Jersey
delivered the mail bound for (GPO) in under 30 minutes by building roads
that dispatched Newark Airport mail flights via express lanes to the Holland
Tunnel in Elizabeth, New Jersey, connecting to downtown Manhattan where
it was a quick ride up the west side to the GPO.
Ticket Says New York”
Newark aerial service landings and tickets
that identified those flights as New York existed for the first 21 years
of airmail and air passenger service.
But in 1934 when Mayor LaGuardia told his
TWA pilot aboard a tiny DC2 flying from Chicago Midway to New York (Newark),
“My ticket says New York and that is where I want to go,”
the aircraft (another publicity stunt) steered its way to New York airport
and the aforementioned FBF, and the air mail future for New York was cast.
In 1939 LaGuardia Airport opened and everything
The airlines abandoned Newark Airport and
shortly after that in 1940 the airport minus the airlines actually closed.
Newark Airport opened again in 1941 at the
outbreak of WWII, but it never fully recovered as an airport until 1978,
when the deregulation of the airline industry brought on the advent of
Don Burr’s People Express.
Mail Week 2018
Spend 3 minutes as Aircraft Owners and Pilots
Association (AOPA) present an interesting, fairly accurate view of air
mail days gone by, including a modern day salute.
A P.S. -
In 1938, those “wing weary pigeons”
actually won the race from Washington to New York, but only because they
were spotted a 24-hour head start.
All in good fun . . .