By Ronald Lesher, a member of the local Tidewater Stamp Club, which will be having a stamp show open to the public on March 11, 2023.
It seems hard to believe that we no longer think about whether to mail our letters across the country by first class or air mail, but today all first-class mail is sent the fastest way. But a century ago, air mail service was something very new.
In April 1918, the first air mail route in the United States was established connecting Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City. The fee for first class mail in 1918 was 3¢ and air mail letters on that short run between Washington, D.C. and New York cost eight times that amount, or 24¢. As airmail routes were expanded the fees would be reduced.
It would be another 20 years before the first air mail left Easton, Maryland from Webb Field, located on Black Dog Alley. At 10 a.m. on Thursday, May 19, 1938, the plane was piloted by Mrs. Elizabeth M. Phillips and was headed for Baltimore. The local newspaper reported 416 letters left Easton that day. By noon Mrs. Phillips had returned with two sacks of letters. In 1938, first class letters cost 3¢ and domestic air mail cost 6¢, only twice the cost of first class.
In 1942 the military began work on a new Easton airport, which was completed in July 1943. The motivation for the building of this airport was for aerial surveillance of the nearby coast. Following the end of the war, ownership of the airport was transferred to the Town of Easton.
All American Aviation Company provided mail delivery starting on March 7, 1939. In 1949 the company was renamed All American Airways as it switched from air mail to passenger service. On January 1, 1953, it was again renamed to Allegheny Airlines. Commercial passenger service was established in Easton by All American Airways.
As air mail service evolved after World War II, a large network was established in the northeast and a contract for Air Mail Route 97 was let by the Postal Service to All American Airways. Contract air mail service by All American Airways was initiated in Easton on April 25, 1949, as part of Air Mail Route 97, Segment 6. The one end of Segment 6 was Washington, D.C. and the other end was Wilmington, Delaware. There were six post offices in between that were served by Segment 6. Four of these offices were in Maryland: Baltimore, Easton, Cambridge, and Salisbury. No planes landed in Cambridge, so air mail letters postmarked in Cambridge were trucked to the airport in Easton. The other two post offices on the way to Wilmington from Salisbury were in Delaware: Georgetown and Dover.
In 1949 when this service was initiated, stamp collectors prepared envelopes to be mailed from each of the eight post offices in Segment 6. The envelopes were stamped with a rubber stamp showing a map of Segment 6. Stamp collectors rushed to get their envelopes to each of the post offices along the route of this new segment.
On May 15, 1949, Segment 6 was expanded to include Wildwood and Cape May, New Jersey, both of which were flown from the Wildwood Municipal Airport. These were added to the route between Georgetown and Dover, Delaware. Another addition, Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, was added June 5, 1949. This addition was made between Georgetown, Delaware, and the New Jersey airport serving Wildwood and Cape May. However, the Rehoboth Beach stop would only be served between May 15 and September 15.
A sampling of these first flight examples will be on exhibit on March 11, from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m., at the Tidewater Stamp Club’s annual show and marketplace to be held at Miller Hall, part of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, located at 315 Goldsborough Street in Easton.