The day before National Air Mail Week began—May 14, 1938—the Post Office Department issued a 6-cent bi-colored airmail stamp in dark blue and carmine. The stamp size was larger than the previous airmail issues, more the size of special delivery stamps. Following criticism that the winged globe airmail stamps were unattractive, Postmaster General Jim Farley had requested models for a new design that would still retain the symbol of flight.
The new, distinctive design featured a bald eagle with outstretched wings and a striped shield, bearing in its talons a shield, olive wreath, and bundle of arrows. This eagle had been extensively used previously on government bonds and fiscal issues plus as an adaptation for the Library of Congress bookplate. The eagle symbolized freedom, the olive wreath peace, and the bundle of arrows, protection. The elements of the stamp are also included in the official Great Seal of the United States.
The first day of issue took place at Dayton, Ohio, home of the Wright Brothers, and at St. Petersburg, Florida, the location of the first passenger flight in 1914 and the site of the 1938 American Air Mail Society convention. An effort was made to make the new stamp available at all post offices participating in National Air Mail Week, May 15-21.
Because the flat plate printing method required separate operations in completing the vertical and horizontal perforations, some sheets with missing perforations escaped detection by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. Forty sheets imperforate horizontally reached a Brooklyn, New York, post office. The stamp dealers who acquired the entire supply charged such inflated prices that stamp collectors campaigned unsuccessfully for a reissue at face value of the error. Later one sheet partially imperforate vertically was discovered. However, no inverts reached circulation due to new cross markings in the margins designed to alert printers of an error.