The Post Office Takes Over

After the first flight on May 15th, the U.S. Army made over 250 airmail flights, delivering over 40,000 pounds of mail. However, on August 12, 1918 the U.S. Post Office took over all airmail operations, which used six Standard JR-1B airplanes built specifically for carrying mail. 

A Standard JR-1B

The Post Office hired civilian pilots to fly their planes. The cost of Airmail was six cents an ounce. A route between New York and Chicago was established in December of 1918. In addition to the JR-1Bs, the postal service purchased many deHavilland Dh-4s, which proved to be deadly, as the pilot sat between the engine and the cargo compartment. During crashes the pilot could easily become trapped-often times burning alive. 

A deHavilland DH-4B (note the absence of a front cockpit)

On September 8, 1920, transcontinental mail service was established from New York to San Francisco. However, it was deemed too dangerous to fly at night, so the mail was transported by day and loaded onto trains at night, meaning a letter would take about three days to make its way across the country, only a day or two less than by train.  

Transferring mail on the transcontinental route

It soon became obvious that in order to make Airmail faster and more practical, it would have to be flown at night. To make night flight possible, gas beacons were set up at regular intervals to light the way for the pilots. 

A beacon at Cheyenne, one of the scheduled stops along the transcontinental route

With a clear path, transcontinental service started on July 1st, 1924, with stops in such cities at Cleveland, Salt Lake City and Reno.  With around the clock service, a letter could make it from coast to coast in 34 hours!  

Wild Bill Hobson shows off the flight suits worn by airmail pilots to battle the elements. (Bill Allen Photo)

These films were produced by the Post Office to show the public the many benefits of Air Mail:

San Diego Air & Space Museum

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