USPS Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Airmail Service

Two new stamps pay honor to early commercial airmail pilots.

USPS air service stamps
The first of the new USPS stamps celebrating the history of airmail go on sale May 1, 2018.USPS

The first delivery of mail from an airplane is often credited to Earl Ovington after he dropped a sack of letters and postcards from an airplane still 500 feet above the ground. That was in the fall of 1911. The U.S. Postal Service says a small group of Army pilots initiated the world’s first regularly scheduled airmail service in May 1918 between Washington, Philadelphia and New York.

The United States Post Office Department, the predecessor to the U.S. Postal Service, took charge of the U.S. Air Mail Service later that summer, operating it from August 12, 1918, through September 1, 1927, with daily airmail delivery, except on Sundays. The Postal Service also created lighted airfields and erected hundreds of airmail guide beacons between New York and San Francisco, so that by 1924 regularly scheduled, transcontinental flying was possible, day and night.

The U.S. Postal Service now plans to honor the beginning of airmail service by dedicating two United States Air Mail Forever stamps created in the style of art popular at the end of World War I. The first stamp commemorates the pioneering spirit of the pilots who first flew the mail in the early years of aviation. The first-day-of-issue ceremony will take place May 1, 2018, at 11 a.m. at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., Washington, DC. The event is free and open to the public. A second historical air-mail stamp will be issued later this summer.

Both stamps, printed with the intaglio print method, feature a design transferred to paper from an engraved plate highlighting a Curtiss JN-4H (Jenny) biplane used in early delivery flights. The Jenny was also featured on the stamps originally issued in 1918 to commemorate the beginning of regularly scheduled airmail service.