Washington Postal Scene — By Bill McAllister
A group of aviation enthusiasts from Indiana has launched a campaign to raise $2.5 million for a National Airmail Museum to be located at Smith Field in Fort Wayne.
Hangar 2 at the airfield would be remodeled into the proposed museum, according to legislation introduced by United States Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind.
His legislation would designate the building as the home of the museum, but it “shall not require or permit federal funds to be expended for any purpose related to that national memorial.”
In a news release issued by the proposed museum on Feb. 16, Banks was quoted as describing the hangar as “the perfect structure for a National Airmail Museum.”
“Smith Field’s significance in air-related transportation and commerce in Fort Wayne and Allen County and its 1920s era design are a unique part of northeast Indiana’s history,” Banks said.
The lawmaker credited the Friends of Smith Field, a group supporting the airport, for having “worked tirelessly to make this museum a reality” and said he endorsed their efforts.
“Our goal is to revitalize Hangar 2 of Smith Field as the new home of the museum and to create an exciting venue that bring these amazing (aviation) stories to life through interactive exhibits, artifacts and hands-on experiences,” the website for the proposed museum said.
“Visitors will be transported back to a time when Fort Wayne played an essential role the development of the Airmail Service and supported the efforts of World War II.”
The Indiana airfield was not the site of the first scheduled airmail flights in the United States. That feat occurred 100 years ago.
The first scheduled fight by the U.S. Post Office Department began May 15, 1918, between Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York; two of the three pilots crashed on their initial efforts.
The Indiana museum’s website credits another flight as “the first air mail service” in the United States, one conducted on Long Island, N.Y., during the week of Sept. 23-30, 1911.
In 1911, Earle L. Ovington a duly appointed airmail carrier, carried mail between an airfield and the Mineola, N.Y., post office in an experiment that was performed without expense to the Post Office Department.
The website mentions that other experimental airmail flights were conducted in different locations.
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Lee Downer, president of the American Air Mail Society, told Linn’s he was not aware of the museum proposal.
“I’m sure the society would want to be involved,” he said.
The American Air Mail Society is a large organization of collectors who focus on airmail items.