As we have stated in an earlier post about Fred Wiseman’s airmail flight from February 17-18, 1911, “what is your definition of “first?” If you are concerned about who made the first “official” airmail flight, then it can be argued that the answer is: The first official experiment at flying Air Mail to be made under the aegis of the United States Post Office Department took place on September 23, 1911, on the first day of an International Air Meet sponsored by The Nassau Aviation Corporation of Long Island, when pilot Earle L. Ovington flew 640 letters and 1,280 postcards from the Aero Club of New York’s airfield located on Nassau Boulevard near Garden City (Long Island), New York, to nearby Mineola, located less than six miles away. After being duly sworn in by U.S. Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock as the first U.S. Air Mail pilot in history, Ovington took off in his own American-made Bleriot Queen tractor-type monoplane, Dragonfly, at 5:26 PM and dropped the bag of mail over Mineola six minutes later from an altitude of 500 feet. Unfortunately the bag broke when it hit the ground, but all of the mail was eventually recovered and forwarded by regular channels with the cancellation reading “AEROPLANE STATION No.1 – GARDEN CITY ESTATES, N.Y.“ Source: http://www.airmailpioneers.org/history/Sagahistory.htm
If, however, you ask, “who flew the first letter by the use of an airplane,” the answer gets complicated. My previous blog (11-14-10) “Who was the first to fly” reviews a few of these other airmail flights. For those readers who want a more complete record of sending mail by air … check out … http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Airmail
A key sentence in my 11-18-10 blog titled, “First Air Mail Flights … Discrepancies” states, “After 36 years, in the S.F. Chronicle (5-16-47), Stanton Delaplane wrote: The Smithsonian Institution squared the record yesterday with the announcement that Fred J. Wiseman, now 70 and a rersident of Berkeley, was the first man in the world to carry airmail …. Paul Edward Garber, curator of aeronautics at the Smithsonian Institution, said Wiseman’s flight was official and that the letters were regularly stamped by the Petaluma postmaster.”
On March 7, 1977, however, Paul Edward Garber (Historian Emeritus), mailed a letter to Mr. A.C. Wallen, Curator, of the Donald Douglas Museum and Library, in Santa Monica, CA., denying that he ever made a certification of Wiseman’s flight “as the first in the world to carry air mail in a heavier-than-air vehicle.” He went on to clarify his position; but, if I post it in this blog today, it will be way too long
Didn’t I state earlier that “the answer gets complicated.” The original question, “Who was first?” cannot, and should not be passed over by saying “So what?” Just like Fred Wiseman’s 1911 flight from Petalluma to Santa Rosa took two days to complete (and even then, the final destination wasn’t successfully reached), it will take another blog on anothyer day to complete Dr. Garber’s explanation. . Tune in soon for part two of this very interesting piece of historical information..