New Issue: Centenary of U.S. airmail service to be commemorated by USPS

The United States Postal Service (USPS) will honour the beginning of airmail service by dedicating two Forever stamps this year.

The first, depicted in blue, commemorates the pioneering spirit of the brave pilots who first flew the mail in the early years of aviation. The first-day-of-issue ceremony will be held on May 1 at 11 a.m. at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. The event is free and open to the public.

The second stamp, this in red, will commemorate this milestone with its first day of issue to take place later this summer.

Both stamps, printed in the intaglio print method—a design transferred to paper from an engraved plate—depict the type of plane typically used in the early days of airmail, a Curtiss JN-4H biplane. The biplane was also featured on the stamps originally issued in 1918 to commemorate the beginning of regularly scheduled airmail service. The stamp designs evoke that earlier period.

The words “UNITED STATES” and “AIR MAIL” are respectively at the top and bottom of the stamp. “EST” is an abbreviation for “established.” The stamp designer and typographer was Dan Gretta, and Greg Breeding was the art director.

The stamps will be issued as Forever stamps, which will always be equal in value to the current first-class mail (one ounce) price.

U.S. AIRMAIL HISTORY

On May 15, 1918, in the midst of the First World War, a small group of U.S. Army pilots delivered mail along a route that linked Washington, Philadelphia, and New York to begin the world’s first regularly scheduled airmail service.

The United States Post Office Department, the predecessor to the USPS, took charge of the U.S. Air Mail Service later that summer, operating it from Aug. 12, 1918, through Sept. 1, 1927. Airmail delivery—daily except on Sundays—became part of the fabric of the American economy and spurred growth of the nation’s aviation industry.

For airmail service to succeed in the early days of flight, the post office had to develop profitable routes, such as between New York and Chicago, and to establish the infrastructure for safely making night flights. It set up lighted airfields and erected hundreds of airmail guide beacons between New York and San Francisco so that by 1924 regularly scheduled, transcontinental flying was possible, day and night.

Airmail delivery, daily except on Sundays, became part of the fabric of the American economy and spurred the growth of the nation’s aviation industry.

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