The First Day of Airmail, 1918

In this silent film clip, an enthusiastic crowd gathers on the Washington, D.C. Polo Field on May 15, 1918, to watch the first scheduled airmail service linking New York, Philadelphia, and Washington. Shortly after President and Mrs. Wilson arrived, a Post Office truck delivered four bags of mail, into which President Wilson deposited a letter from Postmaster General Albert Burleson to Thomas Patten, the postmaster of New York. Lieutenant George Boyle took off in his JN-4H, carrying the mail north. Unfortunately, the rookie pilot headed south, confused by the overabundance of train tracks (which he was instructed to use as a guide), and landed 60 minutes later near Waldorf, Maryland, overturning his airplane in the process. Meanwhile, the eagerly anticipated mail from New York—which had yet to arrive—included a music roll addressed to the president, a copy of Secretary of War Newton Baker’s book of his impressions of the Front, and a letter to the President from New York Governor Charles Whitman, pledging the state’s support for the coming Red Cross drive. Also winging its way to Washington was a letter to Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, from the officers and men of the Pelham Bay Training Camp urging Daniels to attend a performance of “Biff Bang,” a shindig to be performed by the enlisted men. Three hours and five minutes after leaving Belmont Park Racetrack in New York, Lieutenant Webb landed in Washington, D.C. and deposited the mail, which was quickly sorted by Boy Scouts assigned to the task. Video: Courtesy National Archives and Record Administration (3:08)

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