Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Birth of Airmail -- the Indian Connection

Disclaimer: I will regularly post snippets from books that I find interesting and relevant to the subjects of this blog, but I will try to abstain from posting about the quality of the content. I request and recommend that my posting should NOT be considered as review comments.

Moving to today's subject,
The debut of official airmail and the Indian connection.

First things first, the sources for this post is derived from the book,

Title : History of Air Cargo and Airmail from the 18th Century
Author : Camille Allaz
Pages : 408
ISBN : 0954889606

To know more details about this book, go here.

NOTE: If you are in USA, Google books offers limited preview of this book. The case might be different if you happen to search this book via Google books from any other country.

Here is an overview about the book as published in http://books.google.com:

"It was first published in French by the Institut du Transport AĆ©rien in 1998 and received very favourable reviews. Through the publication of the English language edition, this remarkable work is now accessible to many more readers around the world. In addition, the author has expanded the book with new sections and he has extensively updated it to bring the story of air cargo into the twenty first century, concluding with a look into the future. The author, Camille Allaz, served as Senior Vice President Cargo at Air France for 10 years which gave him an insider's close-up view of his subject, a privilege not enjoyed by many historians. There is no aspect of mail or cargo transport by air that has not been thoroughly researched and documented by Allaz, from the first brief transport of animals by balloon in France in 1783 to the vast global networks of the integrated express carriers in the 21st century. As a true scholar, he fits his narrative into the larger framework of political, military, economic and aviation history. This book should stand for years as the definitive work on the history of air cargo and airmail, and will be of immense value to the academic community, to the air cargo industry, the postal services, and to the general public."

Now, here is some interesting tidbits as told in the book.

You will be surprised, atleast, that's how I felt when I read those lines, to know that official airmail "was born in Allahabad - in Northern India - on 18th February 1911".

What was the occasion ? why this airmail was pressed into service ?

Allahabad was the site for "The Annual United Provinces (of India) Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition" organized in 1911. To mark this occasion, the organizers "called upon the Englishman Walter Windham ... to carry out or organize a series of demonstration flights". Taking cue from the Morehouse in Columbus, the clergyman of the Church of the Sacred Trinity of Allahabad mooted the idea of transporting mail along with these flights "for charitable purposes".

Thus was born the airmail service. Though this was not pursued as a regular service, as is obvious from the organizers' objective and the occasion, but, it displayed the willingness of the postal authorities to consider alternative transportation mechanism, apart from existing modes, like,
land and sea routes.

We should be proud about this. In couple of years,
am sure, this centenary will be celebrated.

Who flew the first bag of airmail ?

Walter Windham entrusted the aerial mission to the French pilot, Henri Pequet. He carried 6,500 letters and postcards "over the few miles, which separate Allahabad and Naini junction".

In the following pages (in the book), the author has recorded, for posterity, the transcript of a recorded interview of the French pilot -- flying conditions on that D-day, air strip (the pilot says it was a polo ground), flight details, special postmark, how the media reported it.


[1] page 27, in the book, has the image of the French pilot, seated on the two-seater airplane, with his signature (???) across the photo.

[2] Special postmark consisted of the words: "First aerial post." [as given in the transcript of the recorded interview]

[3] Flight time was 27 minutes and the altitude during the trip was "40-50 metres. Not more."
[as given in the transcript of the recorded interview]

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Andrew Carnegie's stop over @ Madras -- Reply from LOC MSS

Received an e-mail from one of the contacts at LOC MSS, about my earlier inquiry on this subject, with details of their collections on Andrew Carnegie and a list of private researchers whom I can contact to get relevant text transcribed.

Still mulling over as to what to do now. At this point, am undecided on what the next steps should be.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Andrew Carnegie's stop over @ Madras

Anyone interested in Madras' heritage would be surprised to know that the famous self-made billionaire visited Madras, for few days, while he was going round the world trip. This event is set in the late nineteenth century of British India.

Excerpts from the archives of The Sunday Times Plus Sri Lanka Edition
dated Jun/15/2008,

Accompanied by a friend, John Vandervorst, Carnegie set out westward from New York on October 12, 1878, and returned after 256 days on June 24, 1879. When the pair reached Singapore, Galle became their next port of call. They weren’t alone on the passage to Ceylon, for as is revealed in William T. Hornaday’s The Minds and Manners of Wild Animals: A Book of Personal Observations (1922; paperback 2007) they “convoyed my Old Man and another small orang from Singapore to Colombo, Ceylon, whence they were shipped on to Madras, received there by my old friend A.G.R. Theobald, - and presented at the court of the Duke of Buckingham.”

Courtesy: The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka

What interests me in this stop over ? Am trying to locate / find if there is any literature, images, and photos related to this event are available.

I contacted organizations, like, Carnegie Foundation, and Columbia University @ New York but they do not have any such material. My inquiry with Library of Congress' Manuscript and Reading Room is not answered yet !

Can anyone, reading this post, help me ?