The Great Race

When the Air Mail Service decided to establish a route between New York City and Chicago, two pilots competed to fly it first.

Pilot Max Miller and Air Mail Service superintendent Benjamin Lipsner (right) before Miller's pathfinding flight between New York and Chicago in 1918. (Smithsonian National Postal Museum)

(Continued from page 1)

Although the New York to Chicago trip didn’t quite go as planned, the Air Mail Service was still eager to prove that the mail could get from Chicago to New York in one day, and the two pilots were sent on the second leg of the race, staggering their West-to-East departure by a day.

“Thousands of persons…thronged into the Federal Building this afternoon and almost mobbed the clerks at the air-post window in an effort to purchase the new stamps of the 16-cent variety,” reported the New York Times. “If each of those stamps represents a letter,” Lipsner told reporters, “we shall have to have a whole fleet of airplanes to take care of the mails.”

Miller, still plagued with radiator problems, had to stop in Lock Haven, Pennsylvania, where it took four hours and 20 minutes to solder the leaks. He made 600 miles before it became too dark to fly. Gardner, however, made it to New York in 9 hours and 18 minutes (and somewhat dinged up after somersaulting his airplane upon landing), proving once and for all that the Chicago to New York route was viable.

Comment on this Story

comments powered by Disqus