Arago: Exhibits

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Max Miller

Born in Oslo Norway, Max Miller was the poster child of the early airmail service. He had an excellent service record; he was an excellent pilot, and a noted mechanic. It is said that even Praeger, with his distaste for the pilots of the airmail service, harbored a soft spot for Miller in the early days.

Miller’s tenure in the Airmail Service actually began in the Army days. Though he was not a part of the army at the time, he was a qualified mechanic, and was hired by Lipsner, with the intent of promoting him to pilot later. Thus Max Miller was an employee of the Post Office department’s Airmail service before it even existed. Because of this, Max Miller was assigned US Airmail Service badge #1.

Miller flew the lead plane in the opening wave of the path-finding flights to Chicago, a preparatory step in establishing regular airmail service to the city in September, 1918. The flights were a minor media circus, and, despite taking much more time than estimated by “experts,” the flights made Miller a celebrity in aviation circles. Miller embraced this celebrity, if for no other reason than for the betterment of the Airmail service for which he worked.

When Lipsner resigned, Miller followed on December 6th, 1918, as he seemed to genuinely believe in Lipsner. His time away from the Airmail service was short-lived. He would rejoin on April 7th, 1919, as he was unable to find another job. In addition to flying mail, the service then made him the air-mechanical equivalent of a paramedic; flying from trouble spot to trouble spot, reviving downed airplanes.

Airmail Service chest badge, number 1

Miller was issued this badge. The number "1" reflects the fact that he was the first civilian hired by the US Airmail service.

Airmail pilot Max Miller 
Photographer: Unknown
Date created: c. 1919
Max Miller was employed as an airmail pilot for the Post Office Department from August 12, 1918 to September 1, 1920, when he died in a mail airplane crash. The Norwegian born pilot had been interested in aeronautics from his youth and was the first pilot hired by the Post Office Department to fly the mail in 1918. He was married to Daisy Thomas, an assistant in he Second Assistant Postmaster General’s office. 
On September 1, 1920, Miller left Hazelhurst, Long Island, NY, air field for Cleveland in a Junkers-Larsen aircraft with mechanic Gustav Reierson and 600 pounds of mail. Two hours later, the airplane was seen inexplicably only 20 miles away. It was flying low and the motor was cutting out and backfiring. Flames could be seen from the front of the airplane and Reierson was tossing out mailbags. The flames engulfed the front of the airplane, the aircraft nosed over and dove into the ground. The gas tanks exploded blowing the wings off. Both men were killed in the explosion. 
National Postal Museum, Benjamin Lipsner Collection

Max Miller in his flight gear