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Bulloch History with Roger Allen: Aerial delivery of the mail begins with balloons
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Roger Allen

    Note: The following is one of a series of columns looking at the establishment of the postal system in the nation, southeast Georgia and Bulloch County.


    E.A. Keogh’s article, “A Brief History of the Air Mail Service” in the “Saga of the U.S. Air Mail Service” (1962), reported that the first recorded aerial mail transportation occurred in 1870.  It was an apparently unmanned balloon flight made on Sept. 23, 1870, which carried 500 pounds of mail. These mail balloons were simply cast adrift, with some of them never being seen again.

    In fact, on Jan. 9, 1793, President George Washington arranged for a private letter to be “ballooned” from his office in Philadelphia to a personal friend in Deptford, New Jersey.

    Regularly scheduled balloon mail service began on Aug. 17, 1859, when pilot John Wise left in his balloon from Lafayette, Indiana headed to New York. Unfortunately, Wise was forced to land his craft in Crawfordsville, Indiana. This inaugural service run ended here as the letter was carried to New York on the train.

    The U.S. Post Office released a special 5-cent "Balloon Post" stamp in 1877 for those who chose to use this somewhat erratic and undependable service.

    The first real “air mail” delivery made by a plane in the U.S. made in 1911 by pilot E.L. Ovington, who based his "Queen" monoplane at the Long Island airfield. Ovington simply dropped the mail bags out of his cockpit while circling above the Mineola, New York post office. By this means, he delivered a total of 32,415 post cards, 3,993 letters and 1,062 circulars.

    During 1912, 31 air mail routes were established in 16 states, with the War Department furnishing both the planes and pilots. In 1918, an air mail route was begun between New York and Washington.

The DeHaviland DH-4 airplane was chosen for the Air Mail service. This 29-foot-long plane flew at 115 miles per hour, covered 350 miles on a tank of fuel, and carried 500 pounds of mail.  To cross the country took an average of 33 hours in the air.

    Postage rates for letters carried on the new “Air Mail” were set at 8 cents an ounce for each of three zones: New York to Chicago; Chicago to Cheyenne, and Cheyenne to San Francisco.

    After Congress passed the Air Commerce Act of 1926, the Boeing Air Transport Company “won” the bid for the Chicago to San Francisco mail route and the National Air Transport Inc. won the bid for the New York and Chicago mail route.


            Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. Email Roger at

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