To help celebrate the new United States Air Mail stamps, here are five facts about airmail service.
1. Charles Lindbergh was an airmail pilot. Before he made his record-breaking solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927, Lindbergh was the chief pilot for a company that held a contract to provide airmail service between Chicago and St. Louis. He received the nickname “Lucky Lindy” when he was forced to parachute to safety four different times, including twice as an airmail pilot.
2. Amelia Earhart carried mail to raise money. Although all of the early official airmail pilots were men, that doesn’t mean women never carried the mail. Earhart sometimes carried unofficial mail on her flights to raise funds for her aviation adventures.
3. Some early airmail stamps featured a huge mistake. One sheet of the Inverted Jenny, as the 1918 stamp is commonly known, was printed with an upside-down image of a Curtiss JN-4H airplane, the type of craft typically used in the early days of airmail. Today, stamps from this sheet are highly prized by collectors. In 2016, an Inverted Jenny stamp sold for almost $1.2 million at an auction in New York.
4. Flying the mail was a dangerous job. Between 1918 and 1926, 35 pilots hired by the Post Office Department were killed while carrying mail. A surviving pilot recalled the group of early aviators was “considered pretty much a suicide club.” In the first years of airmail service, pilots flew without parachutes, lights or navigational equipment.
5. Airmail service brought acclaim to the Post Office Department. In 1922 and 1923, the department was awarded the Collier Trophy, the aviation industry’s top honor, for important contributions to the development of aeronautics. Other award recipients have included the crews of the Apollo 11 and the International Space Station.