Pilot Eddie Gardner's goggle storage case
When airmail pilot Eddie Gardner wasn’t wearing his goggles, he stored them in this tiny case. Gardner boasted of one of his biggest achievements as an airmail pilot, writing the message “a record in a single day Chicago to N.Y. Sept 10 1918” on the front of the case. The importance of this achievement may seem lost today as jets regularly cover the same path in less than two hours. In 1918, at a time when airplanes rarely traveled more than a few hundred miles in one day, the Post Office Department needed to prove that airmail service was faster than railway mail service. If airplanes could not carry mail faster than trains, the airmail service was not worth the extra cost. To successfully promote the airmail service, the Department had to show that a pilot could fly between New York City and Chicago in a single day.
In September 1918 the Department sent two airmail pilots on path finding flights to determine the best flyway between the nation’s largest commercial centers, New York City and Chicago, Illinois. On September 5, 1918, Gardner and fellow pilot Max Miller left New York. Miller took off first, flying a Standard airmail airplane with a 150-horsepower Hispano-Suiza engine. Gardner and mechanic Eddie Radel followed in a Curtiss R-4 with a 400-horsepower Liberty engine.
Department officials tracked the pilots' progress in a series of telegrams, which can be found in Arago’s Postal Operations section under Administration/Archive section. Miller’s airplane had mechanical problems, and he did not arrive in Chicago until the evening of the next day. Gardner had even worse luck, not reaching the city until the morning of September 7. On the return trip, a leaky radiator forced Miller down near Cleveland. Gardner faced difficulties but managed to get within ten miles of the New York landing field when his craft was forced down. He had managed to fly from Chicago to New York in one day.
After he left the airmail service, Gardner promoted airplanes for the Nebraska Aircraft of Lincoln, Nebraska. In early May 1921 Gardner was flying his airplane in the aerobatics competition during the Holdrege, Nebraska, aviation tournament. During the conclusion of the performance, his plane went into a tailspin from which it did not recover. The airplane crashed to the ground. Gardner was pulled out seriously injured, but still alive. He was carried to a hospital, where he died on May 6, 1921.
This case and other gear used by Eddie Gardner were eventually presented to Benjamin Lipsner, who had befriended Gardner during the time they worked together.
National Archives and Reference Administration, record group 28
Bruns, James H. Turk Bird: The High-Flying Life and Times of Eddie Gardner, Washington, DC: National Postal Museum, 1998.