3184m - 1998 32c Celebrate the Century - 1920s: Lindbergh
US #3184m from the Celebrate the Century series.

On April 15, 1926, Charles Lindbergh made his first airmail flight.

When the US Airmail service was inaugurated in 1918, the Post Office Department oversaw the delivery of the mail.  Then in 1925, Congress passed the Kelly Act, which allowed the post office to work with commercial air carriers to create new airmail routes and deliver the mail.

The first two contract airmail routes went into service on February 15, 1926, flying between Detroit and Cleveland and Detroit and Chicago.  Charles Lindbergh, who was already an experienced pilot at the age of 24, was then hired by the Robertson Aircraft Company to develop a third route, which was known as Contact Airmail Route #2.  This route would fly from Chicago to St. Louis, with stops in Springfield and Peoria.

C10 - 1927 10c Air Mail - Lindbergh's "Spirit of St. Louis", dark blue
US #C10 was the first US stamp to honor a living person.

In the months leading up to the start of the service, Lindbergh surveyed the 278-mile route, establishing the flight and postal operations at each of the four landing fields.  He also selected nine additional emergency landing fields, each about 30 miles apart.  Lindbergh also hired two of his Army flying friends to help him complete the flights.

C10a - 1927 10c Lindbergh "Spirit of St. Louis" - booklet pane of 3
US #C10a – Spirit of St. Louis booklet pane.

Days before the inaugural flight, on April 10, 1926, Lindbergh and his team completed survey flights to make sure everything was in order and to help general public interest in the upcoming flight.  Then at 5:50 a.m. on April 15, 1926, Lindbergh inaugurated the first flight of the new line, departing Chicago with 87 pounds of mail.  All of the covers carried a special commemorative cachet.

874246 - Cover
US #C10 – First Flight Cover

From there, Lindbergh flew south to Peoria where he picked up another 23 pounds of mail.  He then stopped in Springfield and picked up 93 pounds of mail before completing the last leg of his journey, reaching St. Louis at 9:15 am.

1710 - 1977 13c Lindbergh Flight
US #1710 was issued for the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight.

That afternoon, Phil Love made the return flight back to Chicago.  Because the morning flight had generated so much interest, the evening flight carried a large load – 144 pounds from St. Louis alone.  Lindbergh and another pilot also departed St. Louis in empty planes, as they expected a large amount of mail in Springfield.  And there was!  A large crowd had assembled at the field to watch the pilots and they sent out a total of 385 pounds of mail.  After picking up 40 pounds of mail in Peoria, the return trip reached Chicago at 7:15 p.m.

Lindbergh worked as an airmail pilot for 10 months, flying five days a week.  On two occasions he was forced to bail out of his plane.  On September 16, 1926, his plane ran out of fuel before he could reach Chicago and he had to jump out of the plane over Wedron, Illinois.  His 4,000-foot parachute jump was the longest recorded night jump at that time.  Two months later, on November 3, he had to jump out of his plane due to bad weather and landed on a barbed wire fence.

59715A - 2002 75th Ann. Lindbergh's Flight Coin Cover
Item #59715A – 75th anniversary commemorative coin and stamp cover.

It was while working as an airmail pilot that Lindbergh first heard about hotel owner Raymond Orteig’s $25,000 prize for the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic.  Just a little over a year after he began his airmail career, Lindbergh became an international celebrity for completing the journey in his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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16 Comments

    1. According to charleslindbergh.com…

      First bailout, “The plane crashed about two miles from where Lindbergh landed, but the mail was undamaged, recovered, and delivered.”

      Second bailout, “Mail, much of it oil-soaked, was recovered from the wrecked airplane and delivered.”

  1. Thank you so much for this story. I will share it with the members of the Rossmoor Stamp club.

  2. It is the policy of the US Post Office to retrieve and deliver any kind of mail that ended up like these situations. They will even do so if the mail is tattered. I love to read about Charles Lindbergh’s exploits in aviation. I am sorry that he got mixed up in politics because he was a little naive for that milieu and it sullied his record.

    1. Politics can be brutal, but many Americans opposed the war in Europe and the Far East. It took a tragic event like Pearl Harbor to unify Americans, and Charles Lindbergh and others who opposed the war were the first to join in the fight against the aggressors. The War Department denied Lindbergh’s request for aviation service in the Army Air Corps. As a private citizen, he designed planes and tested the use of oxygen masks on high-altitude flights. Unofficially, he took part in military actions in the Far East without the War Department’s knowledge. In my opinion, Lindbergh did not receive a second chance for redemption. Yes, politics can be brutal.

  3. Dear Ms Pauline Hartman

    You mention “Rossmoor”. Is this the: Rossmoor Leisure World retirement
    community? If it is, I would like to know a little about it. I believe that the
    Catholic Priest that married my wife and I, may be living there. I saw him
    ones and he told me he may be retiring to that location, since his mother lives there. She may have passed on by now. The priest’s name: Father William Saunders. My name: Manuel Shelton. My email: manuel_shelton@yahoo.com

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