First Air Mail from Friday Harbor

Posted October 3, 2018 at 10:52 am by

Kenneth McKenzie's Savoig-Marchetti amphibian plane - Contributed photo

SJI His­tor­i­cal Muse­um’s His­to­ry Arti­cle for October…

The date was May 19, 1938. Local pilot Ken­neth McKen­zie offered his Savoig-Mar­che­t­ti amphib­ian plane, pic­tured here. His pas­sen­ger was Fri­day Har­bor Assis­tant Post­mas­ter Melville Hemphill. Post­mas­ter Wal­ter Arend report­ed that 1,152 pieces of mail des­tined for Oak Har­bor and Seat­tle were loaded for the noon depar­ture from the har­bor here.

Why this date? It was actu­al­ly part of an offi­cial event across Amer­i­ca. It was the brain­child of Post­mas­ter Gen­er­al James A. Far­ley, in recog­ni­tion of the 20th Anniver­sary of the inau­gu­ra­tion of domes­tic air mail ser­vice in the U.S. on May 15, 1918. Nation­al Air Mail Week was declared for May 15–21, 1938. A nation­al cam­paign invit­ed cit­i­zens to par­tic­i­pate by send­ing let­ters or post­cards via air mail on May 19 when “air mail ser­vice would be pro­vid­ed to even the most remote loca­tions, when pilots all over the coun­try were asked to donate their ser­vices and be sworn in as gov­ern­ment employ­ees for 24 hours,” accord­ing to Air­Space Mag­a­zine.

San Juan Island went all out for it. Fri­day Har­bor Drug sold spe­cial air mail envelopes for the occa­sion. A com­mem­o­ra­tive San Juan Coun­ty cachet (a stamped design cre­at­ed for envelopes to rec­og­nize a postal event) was designed, as pic­tured here. High School stu­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed in a nation­wide school essay con­test with the theme of “Wings Across Amer­i­ca.” And islanders enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly picked up the new six cent air mail postage stamps fea­tur­ing an eagle in flight.

A side note of inter­est: Seat­tle was the first inter­na­tion­al mail des­ti­na­tion in the Unit­ed States in 1919 when mail from Van­cou­ver, B.C. arrived via sea­plane on Lake Union. On that flight were Bill Boe­ing and pilot Eddie Hub­bard. 

If you have his­tor­i­cal pho­tos of island sea­planes to share, please let the San Juan His­tor­i­cal Muse­um know. It’s an impor­tant part of our local history.

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Categories: Around Here, Community, History

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