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August 10, 2010 > History: National Airmail Week

History: National Airmail Week

By Diane Curry

Hayward celebrated National Airmail Week along with communities across the country in May 1938. I know you're asking yourself, "A celebration for airmail? Boy, they'll celebrate anything in Hayward!" This celebration, however, did not rate a parade down Main Street. Even without the decorations and marching bands, National Airmail Week was an opportunity for showing off community pride and announcing it to the rest of the nation.

The celebration marked the 20th anniversary of airmail service by the U.S. Post Office. In our age of instant messaging, it is hard to grasp just how big a deal it was to have mail delivered clear across the country in a matter of hours versus days. The advent of the airplane and the willingness of the U.S. Post Office to use them cut 22 hours from delivery time.

The Post Office began scheduled airmail service on May 15, 1918 between New York and Washington, D.C. The venture proved a success, and in the following years routes were expanded, reaching San Francisco in 1920. Soon, more and more people were willing to pay higher prices for important pieces of mail to be delivered more quickly. By 1926, the Post Office was contracting with commercial airlines for mail delivery, and flights went around the clock.

In 1938, just as the country was beginning to see the end of the Great Depression, the Postmaster General, James Farley, decided that airmail service needed a boost. He declared May 15-21 National Airmail Week. Post offices across the country began encouraging their citizenry to participate.

All communities were asked to create their own "cachet" (a special logo placed on airmail envelopes) to commemorate the event and promote their town. This was each city's opportunity to promote itself by essentially putting an advertisement on mail and sending it around the world.

Hayward residents used airmail, so the idea of designing a cachet was appealing. Between January and March 1938, local postmaster Anthony Foster announced that 6,685 pieces of mail were sent from the Hayward Post Office on C Street (the one still in use across from the Library) compared to 2,977 pieces during the same period two years prior. Local airmail would have been shipped through an airmail carrier out of the Oakland Airport.

Many of the submittals for the cachet design appear to be in the Historical Society's archives. Several entries came from seniors at Hayward Union High School. Three in particular were active members of the school, including Irene Sorensen, a member of student government; Fumiko Saito, a member of the yearbook staff whose drawings also appear in the 1938 high school yearbook; and Dorothy Stockel, a member of the National Honor Society.

Each submittal included the city name and that it was in commemoration of National Airmail Week. Interestingly, the tag lines to promote Hayward and the accompanying drawings were variations on the same theme-"Our Farm Charm," "Apricot Bowl of the West," "A Happy Farming Center," "The Fruit Basket of California," "Orchids to You," "Land of Plenty," "The City of Rural Charms," "The Heart of the Garden of Eden," "California Fruit Center," "We Crow & Grow," "City of Plenty," "We're Crowin' Cause We're Growin'," and the very catchy "The Biggest Little Apricot Center in the World." Thinking of Hayward at that time, all of these slogans reflect the community perfectly. It was still a small town primarily devoted to agriculture in the form of orchards, poultry, and flower nurseries.

With all these slogans and designs to choose from, the final envelopes appeared with two different designs, none of which is listed above. One says "City of Industry and Agriculture," while another version says simply "Going Forward." These two slogans seem to reflect where the city was going in the future rather than what it was at the time. Who made the final decision is unknown, though it seems a good bet that the Chamber of Commerce might have had some influence.

The cachets were available to anyone who asked for one at the post office and sent an airmail letter. Requests for the cachets also came from postal memorabilia collectors around the world. There was a big push to have a larger than normal turnout on May 19 when special flights would link up across the country as part of the national celebration. It was reported that the Hayward area mailed 523 letters in that one day, eight times more than normally sent.

National Airmail Week is an example of boosterism at its finest. It was a prime opportunity to take a national event and put Hayward on the national stage as a vital and growing community. So while the idea of celebrating the anniversary of airmail seems a bit trivial, the idea of celebrating your community is always a fun one!

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