The San Juan Historical Society and Museum presents a history column the first Wednesday of each month on The San Juan Island Update (www.sanjuanupdate.com). It is a volunteer project of Museum members Shaun Hubbard and Robin Jacobson.

October

First Air Mail from Friday Harbor

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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