What America Looked Like: 1920s Airmail Pilot Suited-Up in Winter Gear

In the 1920s, airplane pilots enjoyed something of a celebrity status, which might explain why U.S. Mail Service pilot William C. Hopson posed here as he would for the cover of a magazine. But he had no glamorous job. Pilots had to fly in all types of weather, and in its first two years of operation, the service lost 20 members. The airmen were well-compensated for their risk; the average pilot earned $3,600 a year and was also paid five to seven cents for each mile he flew. (The average family income hovered around $1,300 a year.) 

Story continues after the image air-mail-pilot-l.jpg In 1918, the first air mail route was established between New York and Washington, D.C. In two years' time, the advantage over rail-mail became significant, as the New York Times reported:

The Air Mail can be twelve hours behind its schedule from New York to San Francisco and still beat the train mail into the Golden Gate City by twenty hours if the train connection is made at Chicago, and by forty-four hours if that connection is missed.

In the service's early days it was even suggested that airplanes deliver to post offices directly, either by dropping packages onto their roofs or taking off and landing on the roofs. In 1918, Superintendent of Mails E. M. Norris told the Times about a merry-go-round rooftop plane launcher in the works:

Some time ago... representatives from two airplane factories measured the roof of the Post Office and said that it was practicable for airplanes to start and alight there. They wanted a fifty-thousand-dollar apparatus built, something like a merry-go-round, by which the airplanes could be spun around until their propellers attained sufficient speed and then be released.

Presented by

Brian Resnick is a staff correspondent at National Journal and a former producer of The Atlantic's National channel.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in National

Just In