The Invention of Airmail that Swept the Nation

Before airmail was invented, shipping methods were much slower. (Homing pigeons had been used centuries before, but pigeons, to say the least, are not the most sophisticated form of transport.)

But some destinations were inaccessible unless accessed by airplane.

The story of the invention of the airplane is in itself a wonderful tale, but airmail enters the story through the first scheduled airmail service in the UK between North London and Berkshire in 1911. The event was part of the celebration of King George V’s coronation. This first service took 16 flights, carrying 35 bags of mail in total. It stopped only about a month after it started due to bad weather.

But the invention of the airplane was too useful to ignore. While the U.S. government was slow to adopt the incredible invention of the airplane, the U.S. Post Office expressed interest in the airplane early on. They tested a mail flight between Garden City and Mineola, NY. He dropped mail from the plane to the ground where the postmaster picked it up.


The famous Jenny airplane.

The Post Office continued to conduct unofficial flights within different states between 1911 and 1912.

The first regular airmail system in the United States started in May 1918 with a route that ran between Washington, D.C. And New York City.

This is also where the famous Inverted Jenny stamp comes into play. Many of the original planes used to transport mail were Jenny training planes from the Army. The Jenny stamp was issued in 1918 in honor of the first airmail service – but things didn’t quite go as planned. You can read more here.

Airmail postage cost 24 cents.

Airmail continued to expand and grow in the U.S., and planes grew safer as time went on.

Of course, airmail was quite popular with stamp collectors. Philatelists often went out of their way to find the first airmail flights to send letters and collect the cancels from such flights.

The Hidden Language of Stamps


Once upon a time, before text messages and email that could be kept between two people, the art of communicating sometimes required secrecy.

If anyone feared their postcard being intercepted by a family member or friend, all they had to do was pull out their book of secret stamp language and figure out the code of the stamp’s placement.


Of course, such a code had its downsides – the message of the stamp based on its orientation changed from source to source. One code suggests that an upside-down stamp means “I am not free,” while another suggests that the same placement means “I love you truly” or “I am always true to you”. You can imagine what sort of misunderstandings this could cause.

However, the “language of the stamps” still strikes our fancy. If you want to write to a loved one and send them a secret message via stamp placement, here are some codes from the Philatelic Database:


Stamp Placement:

  • Upside down, top left corner: I love you
  • Diagonal on top left corner: My heart is another’s
  • Top center of envelope: Yes
  • Bottom center of envelope: No
  • Right side up: Goodbye sweetheart
  • Upside-down, top right corner: Write no more
  • At a right angle, top right corner: I hate you

…And these are just a few of them!


Some of these are excessively harsh – but at least they saved the recipient their dignity if anyone else were to discover the letter.

It’s possible that stamp language was actually barely used. Vintage novelty postcards tout the language of the stamps and show what certain placements mean, but doesn’t it kind of ruin the purpose if it translates it right there on the card?


But if the card gives no explanation to the placement of the stamp, it’s completely up to the receiver to determine what code was used.

If you used a secret stamp code, who would you send it to and what would it say?

Images from this source.