100 Years Ago Today

A History Of Events And Happenings From Exactly One Hundred Years Ago

Postmarked August 3, 1912

Frederick J Wiseman of Santa Rosa, California, was the first person in the US to carry a letter sanctioned by a postal official. Wiseman, like the Wright brothers, worked in a bike shop in Santa Rosa, California. When you owned an early automobile and had trouble, you had only two choices to seek repairs: the blacksmith or the bike shop. As a consequence, bike mechanics became familiar with early motors. He was back East when he saw the Wright brothers return home from their famous first public flight in France and was bitten by the aviation bug. He began flying in Air Shows in California. But his hometown friends and investors wanted to see his plane fly back home so in February  1911 made a flight from Petaluma to Santa Rosa. He brought along 50 newspapers, a sack of coffee for a grocer and three letters from the local postmaster. He had engine trouble and it wasn’t until the next day he completed his 14 mile flight. It would have been faster if he had walked.

The first airmail in the United Kingdom took place in September 1911 when Gustav Hamel of the Grahame-White flying school flew 19 miles in 10 minutes to a meadow on the royal farm at Windsor in Berkshire with a  bag containing messages for King George V and other members of the British royal family.

The First Air Show was in 1909 in France. By 1910 in the US there had been 4 international air shows and many smaller shows. They were popular with crowds eager to pay to see the new miracle of flight. Progressive reformers were taking aim at America’s vices and had shut down a majority of the racetracks in the US by outlawing wagering and the tracks were looking for new ways to generate income. With their grandstand seating, holding air show was a natural fit. Meanwhile military organizations around the world were holding off on committing to any one model of aircraft until the technology developed itself. This forced airplane manufacturers to exhibit their planes and their advances publicly while competing for big money prizes in air shows. Likewise demonstrations of airmail took place at these events where patrons would pay for the novelty of having a letter or postcard flown a short distance. The first “official US airmail” took place in September 1911 when  Earle L Ovington was appointed by US Postmaster General Frank H Hitchcock to fly mail for the United States Post Office at the Nassau Island Long Island Aviation Meet.  The 500 foot drop split the bag open scattering mail everywhere.

On August 3, 1912 at the Hohokus Race Track Aviation Meet in Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey, the postmaster of Ridgewood, New Jersey established a postal substation. It was originally planned that French aviator Francis Durafour was to fly a pouch of mail from the racetrack to Ridgewood but he lost his way flying to the meet from Hackensach. As a substitute pilot Joseph Richter flew the mail 1 1/2 miles to Ridgewood where he dropped the pouch to waiting postal authorities. The pouch held 1,445 postcards, 115 envelopes, one special delivery letter, and one package. The mail bore a circular aerial postmark.

Joseph Richter – airmail pilot
Ho Ho Kus, New Jersey
August 3, 1912

Postcard bearing a circular postmark dated August 3, 1912.
“Aerial Special Dispatch Aviation Grounds Hohokus N.J.”
Four straightline killer bars cancelling the 1-cent Washington stamp.

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