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Airmail Service

Air mail being loaded on Northwest Airlines plane. Location no. HC7.3 p41United States airmail began as an experiment in 1918, with a trial route between the cities of Washington, D.C., and New York. In 1920, the Assistant Postmaster General extended the experiment to the Midwest, with a trial route between the Twin Cities and Chicago, via La Crosse, Wisconsin. That route was discontinued in 1921, and for the next five years, mail moved only by surface means to and from those Midwest cities. In 1926, an entrepreneur, seeing a commercial opportunity, proposed and won a contract for delivery of mail by private flights between Minneapolis and Chicago. His venture was short-lived, however. It coincided with the inauguration of Northwest Airways, a commercial service with a regular flight schedule, which became the carrier of choice for mail on its Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago route, with intermediate stops at La Crosse and Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


  • Aerial Pioneers: The U.S. Air Mail Service, 1918-1927, by William M. Leary
    Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, c1985.
    MHS call number: HE 6496 .L43 1985.
  • "Enterprise in the Skies: The Early Years of Air Commerce in Minnesota," by Gerald N. Sandvick.
    In Minnesota History, vol. 50, no. 3 (fall 1986): pp. 86-98.
    MHS call number: Reading Room F601.5 .M66 v.50:3, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
  • The First Air Mail Flight: From Minneapolis to New Orleans, prepared by A.J. Larsen.
    [S.l.: s.n.], 1930.
    MHS call number: HE 6496 .L37.
  • "Final Flight: Reconstructing an Early Airmail Accident," by Dave G. Stiff.
    In Minnesota History, vol. 50, no. 3 (fall 1986): pp. 99-104.
    MHS call number: Reading Room F 601.5 .M66 v.50:3, or view an electronic version of the article (PDF).
  • The Saga of the Air Mail, by Carroll V. Glines.
    Princeton, N.J.: Van Nostrand, [1968].
    MHS call number: HE 6496 .G5.
  • Saga of the U.S. Air Mail Services, 1918-1927, compiled and edited by Dale Nielson.
    [Miami?, Fla.: s.n.], 1962.
    MHS call number: HE 6496 .A5.
  • Tracks Across the Sky: The Story of the Pioneers of the U.S. Air Mail, by Page Shamburger.
    Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, [1964].
    MHS call number: HE 6496 .S5.


  • Lewis H. Brittin Papers.
    Letters, reports, clippings, photographs, and other items concerning Brittin's activities as a promoter of St. Paul industrial development (1920s), founder and executive (1926-1934) of Northwest Airways, the forerunner of Northwest Airlines, and air transportation consultant.
    MHS call number: P763; see the green Manuscripts Notebooks for more details (there is 1 box).
  • Northwest Airlines, Inc., Corporate Records.
    Northwest began service in 1926 as an air mail carrier between Chicago and the Twin Cities. The collection includes financial records, photographs, and subject files.
    MHS call number: See the green Manuscripts Alpha Notebooks—filed alphabetically under Northwest Airlines, Inc.—for a detailed list of boxes and locator numbers (there are 59 boxes, but not all relate to this topic), or use an electronic version of the inventory.
    Access to records less than 25 years old requires written permission. Ask a librarian for help.
  • Visual Resources Database subjects that may be useful for this topic:
  • There are additional Northwest Airlines photographs in the Minnesota Historical Society's A-V Collection. Check the library catalog.
  • Check the library catalog for other materials.