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The first recorded European airmail flight occurred in England in 1910.

The first recorded European airmail flight occurred in England in 1910.



German Otto biplane

The Germans flew this Otto biplane on their airmail routes.



Latecouere flies plane from France to Senegal

The Latecoere 26 flew the mail from Toulouse, France to Saint Louis, Senegal in 1925.



Latecoure Line flew mail to Africa from 1927

The Latecoere Line used a Late 25 to fly mail between Africa and South America beginning in 1927.



Aeropostale Latecouere 28-1

An Aéropostale Latecoere 28-1 mailplane.



Junkers F 13 flies mail in South America

Junkers F-13 planes flew the mail in South America in the 1930s.



Junkers G24A floatplane

A Junkers G-24a Aerotransport floatplane.



Airmail Around the World

About the same time that airmail was being tried in the United States, Europe also was beginning to fly mail by air. The first recorded European airmail flight occurred in England in 1910 when Claude Graham-White carried the mail by air. He worked on his own, without direction, pay, or permission from the British post office or government. On February 18, 1911, Great Britain's government approved a test flight in its colony of India during the United Provinces Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition in the city of Allahabad. On this flight, pilot Henri Pequet, a Frenchman, flew a Sommer biplane five miles (eight kilometers) in 13 minutes, carrying 6,500 cards and letters.

 

The first official British airmail flight took off on September 9, 1911, at 4:58 p.m. Organized and paid for by the British government, this flight was part of the celebration recognizing the crowning of King George V. Pilot Gustav Hamel flew a 50-horsepower (37-kilowatt) Blériot monoplane from London Hendon Aerodrome 20 miles (32 kilometers) to Windsor Castle, carrying 23.5 pounds (10.6 kilograms) of mail. During the next two weeks, two other pilots flew 19 more flights between the same airfields in a Farman II airplane.

 

On September 13, 1911, France tested its own airmail system in its Moroccan colonial cities of Casablanca and Fez. These cities had large seaports, so the French used a Breguet biplane nicknamed “the flying tent” that was fitted with pontoons to make the flight, taking off from and landing on the water.

 

A week later, on September 19, 1911, the Italians began flying the mail by air. Pilot Achille Dal Mistro flew a Deperdussin monoplane about 90 miles (145 kilometers) from Bologna to Venice, Italy, in 88 minutes. Dal Mistro crash-landed on the Lido (the beach) near Venice but was not hurt. 

 

Germany first tested airmail in early 1912 with a flight from Darmstadt to Munich, in the German region of Bavaria. The pilot flew the 100-horsepower (75-kilowatt) Otto biplane Gelber Hund, meaning Yellow Dog. 

 

British planes carried the first regular airmail in Europe. Beginning in 1915, British pilots carried army messages across the English Channel to Belgium. Two years later, Italy began regular airmail service between Rome and Turin, and the next year, Germans followed with a regularly schedule but short-lived airmail route between Berlin and Cologne that lasted only four months. 

 

The longest regular airmail route, and the first international service carrying mostly civilian mail, began during World War I. Short of food, Austria hoped to reach new suppliers to its east in the Ukraine. Early in March 1918, Colonel August Raft von Marwil and his observation officer flew from Vienna, Austria, 700 miles (1,127 kilometers) east to Kiev, Ukraine. The colonel found plentiful food, and on March 20, he launched a regular airmail route between these two cities to carry private mail, food, and supplies, as well as some military airmail. The route was flown in a Brandenburg biplane and, at times, would carry a passenger as well as the mail. The Austrian route lasted seven months; the plane made some forced landings but there were no fatalities. 

 

On July 4, 1918, von Marwil began flying a new airmail route from Vienna to Budapest, Hungary, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This new route was closed within a month, however, because enemies within the Empire sabotaged the airplanes, killing four airmen.

 

Also in 1918 in Toulouse, France, Pierre Latecoere, a factory owner, proposed an airmail route that he declared would eventually span 8,000 miles (12,875 kilometers) from Toulouse, France, to the southern tip of South America. On December 25, 1918, Latecoere launched the first flight from Toulouse of his Lignes Aeriennes Latecoere, nicknamed the “Line.” Airmail from Toulouse first reached Spain, then the French colonies in Rabat and Casablanca, Morocco, in February 1919. The routes lengthened each year until by the middle of 1925, Line pilots regularly flew 2,900 miles (4,667 kilometers) down the west coast of North Africa and across the Sahara Desert to Dakar, Senegal. From Dakar, airmail on the Line was loaded onto one of four war-surplus destroyers given to the company by the French government, to travel across the South Atlantic to the city of Natal, Brazil, on the northeast coast of South America.

 

The Latecoere Line changed its name to Aeropostale in April 1927, and in November of that year, a pilot in the new Aeropostale plane called the Late 25 began regular flights between Natal and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Buenos Aires, Argentina. Aeropostale expanded to Paraguay, in early 1929, and in July 1929, began a regularly scheduled route across the Andes Mountains to Santiago, Chile, on the Pacific coast of South America. The route even went as far as Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of Chile and South America, just as Latecoere had predicted in 1918. 

 

On May 12-13, 1930, the trip across the South Atlantic finally took place: a Latecoere 28 mailplane fitted with floats and a 650-horsepower (485-kilowatt) Hispano-Suiza engine made the first nonstop flight. Aeropostale pilot Jean Mermoz flew 1,900 miles (3,058 kilometers) from Dakar to Natal in 19 hours 35 minutes, with his plane holding 270 pounds (122 kilograms) of mail. 

 

One famous pilot of the Line and Aeropostale was Antoine de Saint-Exupery, a former World War I French air force pilot who became a poet and writer. Saint-Exupery worked as a diplomat with the nomads of the Sahara Desert to make it safer for the Line to fly in North Africa and later helped expand the airmail routes in South America. The books of Antoine de Saint-Exupery, including Wind, Sand and Stars, helped make airmail flying appear glamorous and popular with the public. 

 

After a scandal involving postal payments from the French government to Aeropostale, the company was dissolved in 1932. Aeropostale eventually became part of Air France, an airline owned and managed by the French government. 

 

In Germany, up to 37 airlines competed for airmail, until in 1926, the German government consolidated all airmail under a single national airline, Deutsche Luft Hansa. On December 5, 1929, Germany launched an airmail route to compete with Aeropostale, flying mail from Germany, through Seville, Spain, to the port of Tenerife in the Canary Islands. German ships would pick up the seaplanes by crane, refuel them, then launch them again by catapult. On the other side of the Atlantic, other German fuel ships would sit at anchor. When the German airmail seaplanes landed near the ships, they would refuel and be launched again by catapult to fly into South America, where German immigrants had started continental airmail service. 

 

In 1934, the German airmail carrier shortened its name to Lufthansa . Also, the independent German airline companies operating in South America joined Lufthansa, which expanded along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts of South America, flying Junkers F-13 and Junkers G-24 floatplanes and using powerful Ju-52s to cross the Andes.

 

Lufthansa developed a partner airline in China called Eurasia. Now, airmail could be flown from Berlin, across northern Asia through Siberia and the Gobi Desert, and on to Shanghai in China or Tokyo. German pilots also developed a southern airmail route for Eurasia, across the Middle East, northern India, and Thailand. Many Chinese airfields were bumpy and unpaved, so Eurasia flew planes with balloon tires to absorb the shock, such as the Junkers W-33.

 

Britain continued to expand its airmail system to compete with the French and Germans. By 1923, Britain had launched an airline that had 18 planes and flew 1,760 miles (2,832 kilometers) across Europe. In 1924, this government-owned airline became Imperial Airways . British airmail service continued to grow until, by 1935, Imperial flew mail and passengers regularly from London or Southhampton, England, to Cairo, then on to Basra, Iraq, and to India. Another route went to Central Africa, Asia, and Australia.

 

British postal customers thought that airmail was too expensive, though, and the volume of mail the service carried fell. Consequently, in 1938, the British government reduced the price of airmail stamps and, within a year, the public bought twice as much airmail. Still, Imperial Airways had lost too much money. In 1939 it merged with the new British Airways, forming the government-owned British Overseas Airway Corporation (BOAC). 

 

--Roger Mola

 

Sources:

Jackson, Donald Dale. Flying the Mail. Alexandria, Va.: Time-Life Books, 1982.

Mondey, David.The International Encyclopedia of Aviation. New York, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1977.

 

“Cuba's Commercial Aviation History and the Pichs Collection.” National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution. http://www.si.edu/postal/pichs/aviation.exhibit1.htm.

“The Airmail Takes Wing.” http://www.aerofiles.com/airmail.html. 

 

 

Further Reading

Ethell, Jeffrey L. Smithsonian Frontiers of Flight. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Books, New York, Orion Books, 1992.

Heppenheimer, T.A. Turbulent Skies: The History of Commercial Aviation. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1995.

Holmes, Donald B. Airmail, An illustrated History 1793-1981. New York: Clarkson N. Potter Inc., 1981.

 

Educational Organization

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Content of Standard

National Council for Geographic Education

Standard 1

How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to process information.

International Technology Education Association

Standard 4

Students will develop an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology.