In 1938 the United States celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the first airmail route by designating May 15-21 as National Air Mail Week. The main feature was scheduled for Thursday, May 19, when airmail service would be provided to as many towns as possible throughout the nation. In addition, each town would be invited to create its own cachet, a commemorative design to mark the event printed or stamped on the envelopes mailed that day.
The first step toward providing one-day airmail service to Nebraska’s small towns was to organize the state into four districts, completed by the end of March 1938. Omaha, Lincoln, Grand Island, and North Platte were established stops on the transcontinental airmail route, so on May 19 all of the state’s special airmail would be picked up in one of those hub cities and distributed to smaller towns. While the districts were being arranged, pilots had to be found. By the end of March, a bulletin had gone out requesting all eligible pilots to sign up for airmail flights. Ultimately nearly sixty pilots flew routes, and a few more remained on standby in case of emergency.
Despite weather-induced delays, rough landing fields, and the number of pilots in the air, there were no major accidents during the day. Many Nebraska newspapers noted that the state’s May 19 airmail flights (which carried 3,937 pounds of letters) were among the most extensive in the nation. The pilots, the U.S. Post Office Department, local communities, and state organizers had created an event more successful than many could have imagined.
For more information on Nebraska’s participation in this event, see Kathleen Alonso’s “3,937 Pounds of Letters: National Air Mail Week in Nebraska, May 1938,” in the Winter 2005 issue of Nebraska History magazine, available from the NSHS Landmark Stores. This issue also includes two other articles relating to aviation: John Carter’s “Landmarks on Paper,” on commemorative cachets, and Liz Watts’s “The Flying Newsboy Takes to the Air,” which is online on the Nebraska State Historical Society’s website. — Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications