National Air Mail Week

In 1938 the United States celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the first airmail route by designating May 15-21 as National Air Mail Week. The main feature was scheduled for Thursday, May 19, when airmail service would be provided to as many towns as possible throughout the nation. In addition, each town would be invited to create its own cachet, a commemorative design to mark the event printed or stamped on the envelopes mailed that day. Harley G. Moorehead, Omaha postmaster, became the state chairman for National Air Mail Week. The Nebraska Department of Aeronautics handled statewide coordination.

The first step toward providing one-day airmail service to Nebraska’s small towns was to organize the state into four districts, completed by the end of March 1938. Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, and North Platte were established stops on the transcontinental airmail route, so on May 19 all of the state’s special airmail would be picked up in one of those hub cities.

After the four districts (with a hub city in each) were organized, routes were created. Generally this was the district’s responsibility. Two major formats were used. The first was to have a plane start in a hub city, fly to three, four, or perhaps five towns, and then return to the hub with a cargo of airmail. Another option was to have a pilot start in his hometown and fly to the hub city, picking up mail along the way.

While the districts were being arranged, pilots had to be found. By the end of March, a bulletin had gone out requesting all eligible pilots to sign up for airmail flights. Ultimately nearly sixty pilots flew routes, and a few more remained on standby in case of emergency. The postmaster in each town was responsible for finding an appropriate landing field and was required to submit a map to C. S. Doyle, chairman of the Nebraska Department of Aeronautics. Many towns that were unable to arrange their own flights sent mail to the nearest town that did land a plane.

Despite weather-induced delays, rough landing fields, and the number of pilots in the air, there were no major accidents during the day. Many Nebraska newspapers noted that the state’s May 19 airmail flights (which carried 3,937 pounds of letters) were among the most extensive in the nation. The pilots, the U.S. Post Office Department, local communities, and state organizers had created an event more successful than many could have imagined.

For more information on Nebraska’s participation in this event, see Kathleen Alonso’s “3,937 Pounds of Letters: National Air Mail Week in Nebraska, May 1938,” in the Winter 2005 issue of Nebraska History magazine.

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