Where there is no danger
“What kind of man would live where there is no danger? I don’t believe in taking foolish chances. But nothing can be accomplished by not taking a chance at all.”
— Charles Lindbergh
On this day in 1918, the U. S. Postal Service issued its first airmail stamp. The price was 24 cents, equal to more than four dollars in today’s money. Two days later, the first scheduled U.S. airmail flight took off.
During those early years, flying airmail was considered the most dangerous job in the U. S., and for good reason: 31 of the first 40 pilots hired died in crashes. The de Havilland DH-4 became known as the “flaming coffin” because of its tendency to explode and burn on crash landings, which were not rare occurrences. Within a year, the planes were reconfigured to lessen the risks, but eventually the Post Office would contract the rapidly-growing passenger airlines and other private sector companies to carry the mail.
It was during his years as an airmail pilot that Charles Lindbergh became interested in winning the $25,000 Orteig Prize, to be awarded to the first aviator to fly non-stop from Paris to New York. The rest, as they say, is history, more well-known to most of us than the crucial early experience Lindbergh and other pilots gained flying risky airmail routes. But it’s likely that the courage, skill and expertise Lindbergh developed during his relatively brief time flying the mail were pivotal in his successful transatlantic flight.
It’s easy to get irritated at slow-moving lines at the Post Office, rate increases and delayed mail. But reading a bit of history puts it all in perspective. For only 49 cents we can mail a letter anywhere in the United States, even Alaska or Hawaii, and expect it to arrive at its destination within a week, with very little chance of any loss of life en route. Quite a bargain, all things considered.
One year ago today: