THE POSTAL HISTORY OF ICAO

 

International Exhibition of Air Mail Postage (1969)

 

A special three-week exhibition of airmail postage was shown from 12 to 30 May 1969 at the Montreal headquarters of ICAO to mark the 50th anniversary of Alcock and Brown’s feat. The exhibition featured one of the largest collection of rare air mail postage ever shown in North America, and was organized by Mr. R.J. Hiscock, noted Montreal philatelist and Chief of the ICAO Management Services Office. Airmail postage of 66 nations was presented at the exhibition. From the early ventures in the airborne delivery of mail, world civil aviation now carries letters into the farthest reaches of civilization. International airmail provides a medium of fast communications, and encourages greater understanding and trade among people of different nations and different cultures throughout the world.

 

Commemorative cover addressed to R.J. Hiscock

The Canadian green stamp (Scott #493), showing a globe and tools of various trades, was issued on 21 May 1969 for the 50th anniversary of the International Labour Organization (ILO). Postmark dated 21 May 1969.

 

The first nation to officially authorize airmail was India when, in 1911, a small aircraft flew six miles to deliver 6,500 letters and cards. Italy, Australia, the United States, Great Britain and France also pioneered in the establishment of airmail services in the early days of aviation history. The Government of Italy had experimental airmail flights as early as May 1908, but issued provisional airmail postage only in May 1917.

 

Nearly a year later, Austria established a regular international airmail service between Vienna and Kiev, Russia. Similar services were soon established by other countries as well, i.e. London to Paris in 1919, Seattle to Victoria, B.C., Canada, in 1920.

 

Newfoundland – 9 June 1919

Scott #C2

These were relatively short distances, however; the first long distance delivery occurred when Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown (Alcock and Brown) flew, for the first time in history, non-stop across the North Atlantic Ocean from St. John’s, Newfoundland to Clifden, Ireland on 14-15 June 1919 in a Vickers Vimy bomber in an historic 16-hour flight.

 

It is to be noted that, in 1913, Britain’s The Daily Mail newspaper had offered a £10,000 prize for the first crossing of the Atlantic in a heavier than air machine. In pursuit of the prize and the glory that would accompany the win, Alcock and Brown were chosen by Vickers Limited to compete in the transatlantic race. Fitted with extra fuel tanks, a modified Vickers-Vimy World War I bomber was shipped to Newfoundland; this place was a favoured take-off point for pilots attempting to cross the Atlantic. Once reassembled, Alcock and Brown performed several test flights in Newfoundland. On 14 June 1919, they departed Lester’s Field, St. John’s and some 16 hours later, they crash-landed in a bog at Clifden. Alcock and Brown has successfully flown the Atlantic non-stop and won the race. They collected their prize money and donated part of it to the workers who had built the aircraft. The trip had not been an easy one; the pair of aviators faced problems of heavy snow, electrical storms, icing on the aircraft, a damaged radio, and strong winds. On 21 June 1919, Alcock and Brown were presented to King George V and were knighted. Following the Atlantic crossing, Brown never flew again; Alcock died in a plane crash in France in late 1919.

 

The exploits of Alcock and Brown were noted philatelically at that time when Newfoundland was taking advantage of fledgling flights by issuing special overprints. On 9 June 1919, the post office of Newfoundland had overprinted 10,000 of the 15-cent stamp Scott #70, issued on 24 June 1897 for the 400th anniversary of John Cabot’s discovery of Newfoundland and the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign, with the text Trans-Atlantic/AIR POST,/1919./ONE DOLLAR., to become Scott #C2. Alcock and Brown carried 196 letters and one parcel using Scott #C2 and postmarked between 10 and 13 June at St. John’s. Alcock took the small mailbag to London, England, where they were again cancelled on 17 June 1919.

 

Canada – 13 June 1969

Scott #494

It was the first time mail was carried by air across the Ocean. “This letter I am sending by the first transatlantic air post, which I am going to carry …”. These confident words were written in a letter addressed to his parents by John Alcock on 14 June 1919. A few hours after landing, his letter was stamped and posted. The first transatlantic airmail delivery had been accomplished. Alcock and Brown risked their lives in a momentous adventure across the Ocean, as they crash-landed in a bog.

 

The Canadian stamp (Scott #494), issued on 13 June 1969 for the 50th anniversary of the first non-stop transatlantic flight, shows the Vickers Vimy and a map of the Atlantic.

 

American pilot Steve Fossett and co-pilot/navigator Mark Rebholz successfully re-created the historic, first-ever 1919 transatlantic flight of John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown, landing their replica of the Vickers Vimy wood and canvas biplane on the Connemara Championship Golf Links in Clifden, Ireland, just after 17h00 local time on 3 July 2005. The re-enactment of this landmark in the world of air transport, following the original route exactly, took 18 hours 15 minutes, as Fossett and Rebholz took off Saturday night 2 July 2005 from St John's, Newfoundland, and flew at low altitude and at approximately 100 knots airspeed all through the night, navigating by sextant, compass and chart  (instruments available to the crew in 1919), and hand-flying the accurate replica of the WWI era bomber. The open-cockpit biplane was almost the same as the original Vimy flown by Alcock and Brown, but it had two Canadian Orenda V-8 engines in place of the original pair of Rolls-Royce Eagle V-12s.

 

Newfoundland – 1932 - Unissued stamp

An unissued stamp, related to the First Transatlantic Air Mail and Passenger Flight, is interesting to note. In 1932, the government of Newfoundland had the Bureau of Engraving of Minneapolis, Minn., produce 400,000 of the stamp under a contract with Aerial World Tours of Minneapolis. The tour company was to sell the stamps to raise money for the flight and took a lot of 25,000 stamps to sell. The stamps would be good for airmail postage on the flight. The company procured a Sikorsky seaplane and stationed it on Wayzata Bay in Lake Minnetonka, but it was unable to raise enough money to make the flight. On 10 September 1932, Newfoundland cancelled the contract and ordered the bank holding the balance of the 375,000 stamps to destroy them.

 

During the ICAO Air Mail Postage Exhibition,

R.J. Hiscock explains to visitors the special issues on display.

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