Arago: Aviation


Curtiss JN-4H model


The airplane's number, 38262, represents the aircraft flown by Major Reuben Fleet from Bustleton field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to Washington, D.C. just before the official mail service began. Airplane 38262 was assigned to Lt. George Boyle as the first airplane to fly airmail out of Washington, D.C., in the new airmail service on May 15, 1918.

Although the Curtiss JN-4 airplane, nicknamed the Jenny, was constructed for use during World War I, the airplanes never flew in action. The Jenny gained fame as a training vehicle for military and civilian pilots. Over 6,000 JN-4 airplanes were ready for use by the end of the war. Designer B. Douglas Thomas was the mind behind the Curtiss Jenny. He designed the craft while working for Glenn Curtiss's Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Corporation.

Curtiss continued to refine the design and constructed 929 versions of the Jenny, which were designated as JN-4H for their 150 horsepower Hispano-Suiza engines. Just prior to the war's end, the U.S. Army Air Corps transferred six JN-4H airplanes to the Post Office Department for use on the first regularly scheduled Air Mail Service, which operated on a route between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and New York City.

The Post Office Department used army pilots to fly the Jenny airplanes from the service's first day, May 15, 1918, through August 9, 1918. Postal airmail pilots took over flying duties on August 12, 1918. They continued to use the Jenny, but officials began to secure aircraft that were better-suited for the rigors of airmail flight.

When the army sold hundreds of Jennies to the public during the 1920s, amateur pilots discovered that these airplanes were good for basic flying, but airmail pilots needed craft that could carry more cargo and fly farther on a tank of gas. Jennies could not always meet the needs of airmail pilots, who had to fly in all types of weather. Airmail pilot Earnest Allison joked that he considered the Jenny a "very safe airplane because the carburetor would vibrate the airplane so badly that it would shake the ice off the wings." Even army pilots laughed about the Jenny's reliability, some noting that it was "a bunch of parts flying in formation."

The Jenny's top speed was about 80 mph, with a range of about 175 miles and a ceiling of about 11,000 feet. The airplane's wingspan was forty-three feet, seven inches, and the airplane weighed just over a ton. The Jenny could carry a little less than three hundred pounds of mail per trip. The front seat was left out of the redesigned airplanes in order to carry mail bags. The Jenny's gas capacity was doubled when a set of gas tanks was hooked together so the airplane could fly farther.


Glines, Carroll V. Airmail: How it All Began. California: Aero Publishers, 1990

Jackson, Donald Dale. Flying the Mail. Alexandria, Virginia: Time-Life Books, 1982.

Leary, William M. Aerial Pioneers: The U.S. Air Mail Service, 1918-1927. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 1934.

Lipsner, Benjamin B. Jenny to Jets. Chicago, Illinois: Wilcox & Follett, 1951.

O’Sullivan, Thomas J. The Pioneer Airplane Mails of the United States. Cinnaminson, New Jersey: The American Airmail Society, 1985.

Hamburger, Page. Tracks Across the Sky: The Story of the Pioneers of the U.S. Air Mail, 1964.

U.S. Air Mail Pioneers. The U.S. Air Mail Pioneers News. Elmhurst, Illinois: Air Mail Pioneers.

U.S. MAIL 38262
wood; metal; cotton; plastic
16.51 x 46.99 x 76.2 cm (6 1/2 x 18 1/2 x 30 in.)
Museum ID:

  • Curtiss JN-4H model
  • Curtiss 'Jenny' Model Airplane
  • Curtiss JN-4H model
  • Curtiss JN-4H model
  • Curtiss JN-4H model
  • Curtiss JN-4H model
  • Curtiss JN-4H model
Additional Records

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