"First Flight Regular Mail" pouch
This pouch, signed by Chicago Postmaster Carl Schroeder, was one of hundreds of mail pouches used on October 6, 1953, for an experimental service. Under Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield, the Post Office Department began transporting first-class letters by air. This specially-marked mail pouch has the words “First Flight / Regular Mail / Oct. 6 – 1953” stenciled on one side. In addition to Schroeder’s signature, markings on the bag note that this is the “original pouch carried by PMG Arthur E. Summerfield” and that the pouch traveled from Washington, D.C., to Chicago, Illinois. A second signature on the bag belongs to E. P. Freeman, the assistant director of the Department’s Bureau of Transportation. The pouch was transported by air from Washington, D.C., to New York City, and finally Chicago, Illinois.
The first sixteen airplanes involved in the day’s experiment carried about 31,000 pounds of mail. Four airplanes traveled from Washington to Chicago, four from New York City to Chicago, four from Chicago to Washington, and four from Chicago to New York City.
Prior to this date, only letters specifically paid with airmail stamps were carried by that service. By 1953 the Department was ready to begin moving more mail by air. The nation’s railway system had been shrinking since the end of World War II, while highways and airmail routes had increased. Summerfield was quoted as saying that the experiment would “speed-up first-class deliveries of mail for all three of the cities where the planes are now landing, and also will help deliveries for a large community of cities around Chicago, New York, and Washington.” (Chicago Tribune) Four airline companies were working with the Department in the experimental service—American, United, Trans World, and Capital.
The new service did not replace the existing six-cent-per-ounce airmail rate, which continued as a guaranteed delivery by air. Regular first-class mail would be added to airlines’ cargo only on a space available basis.
Chicago Tribune, October 7, 1953
New York Times, October 7, 1953