1926 air mail stamp

There were plenty of old timers in Los Angeles in 1926 who could still recall when mail to the east coast had to travel by ship around the Horn- a voyage that could take twelve to fourteen weeks. Things had improved a little since then but in the spring of 1926, airmail was about to bring New York closer to L.A. by 30 hours.

If you were in Los Angeles in early 1926 and needed to send a letter or other important document to New York, even the fastest trains couldn’t get it there in less than 90 hours.


Hangar of Western Air Express at Vail Field (top-L); Harris M. Hanshie, company Pres. (top-R); group photo (L-R) F.W. Kelly and E.L. Remelin, pilots, company V-P Major C.C. Moseby, C.N. James, Maurice Graham, and Alva de Garmo, pilots.

But the wings of change had been set in motion by the Kelly Mail Act of 1925, which allowed private carriers to handle the USPS’s aerial mail routes. The recently incorporated Western Air Express, Inc. won the bid for the Los Angeles-Las Vegas-Salt Lake City contract.

Western_Air_Express air mail 1926 Vail Field, Los Angeles

“Pilots readying an aircraft for the first air mail flight by Western Air Express,” Los Angeles, April 17, 1926. photo: Water & Power Associates.

Airmail service officially began in Los Angeles with Western Air’s inaugural flight April 17, 1926. Veteran WWI pilot Maurice “Maury” Graham left Los Angeles’ Vail Field at 7:30 am, and arrived at Salt Lake City at 3:20 pm mountain time.

Western Air Express Maurice Graham

Maury Graham making a stop at Rockwell Field, NV on April 17, 1926. Photo: Cooperative Libraries Automated Network (CLAN) Nevada.

os Angeles Mayor George E. Cryer air mail letter 1926

LA’s Mayor George E. Cryer. Photo: California Historical Society

Part of the load Graham carried on April 17 was this oversized airmail letter from Los Angeles Mayor George E. Cryer to New York City’s new Mayor Jimmy Walker, perhaps sharing some corruption tips.

Jimmy James, Western Air Express

Pilot “Jimmy” James. Photo: San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

The first batch of mail from the east, all 200 pounds of it, arrived in Los Angeles that afternoon at 5:20pm, carried by pilot Charles “Jimmy” James.

Douglas M-2 airmail place, Western Air Express

The aircraft used in 1926 was a Douglas M-2 biplane made by Donald Douglas’ Douglas Aircraft of Santa Monica. Photo: Washington Co. Historical Society, UT.

All of this speed was not without cost. Postage for a letter sent through the regular mail in 1926 was 2¢ per once. An airmail stamp was 10¢ per ounce for distances up to 1000 miles, 15¢ cents an ounce for 1500 miles, and 20¢ an ounce for more than 1500 miles

Pennzoil Western Air Express Air Mail 1926

“Fly Your Mail.” Ad for Western Air Express’ air mail service and Pennzoil. 4-18-1926 LA Times.

There was a human cost as well. Pilots often had to fly in dangerous conditions. Maurice Graham lost his life after his plane crashed in a snowstorm on January 10, 1930, less than four years after he made that initial run. His ashes were scattered along his air mail route.

Western_Air_Express air mail 1927 Vail Field, Los Angeles

Pilot Maurice Graham at Vail Field in 1927. photo: Water & Power Associates.


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