Airmail Thesis Week 1

Last year was the first time CCAD's Advertising & Graphic Design seniors were asked to have a Thesis which held no restrictions, letting students choose to pursue their own topics of interest and develop bodies of work around them. For my thesis this semester I have narrowed it down to three potential topics all relating to the beginnings of US Airmail. I have been fascinated by aviation since I flew by myself for the first time as a junior in high school and have a soft spot for mail in general. (Speaking of which, you should keep an eye out for a new documentary made by some close friends called Making Mail that will be on the film festival circuit soon.) And it was the brave pilots of WWI and the 1920's who pioneered the way for commercial aviation.

Here are my choices, but spoiler: the last one is my favorite.

1. Reinvigorating a Dying Aerospace Industry

The fledgling years of the US Post’s Airmail service is relatively similar to the Amazon delivery drones’ struggles. Both modes of mail transportation had troubles with mastering new technology in reference to weather conditions, theft, weight and distance limitations, and of course being capable of delivering in time regardless of rain or shine.


2. Uncle Sam’s Suicide Club

The airmen of the US Postal Service were fearless in the face of travel and aviation. With an average rate of one death per month for the first two years of the system, these pilots were national celebrities and heroes. Their personalities and antics go down in history right beside the forming delivery system, making them more than mere mortals but legends.


3. Flying on Schedule

Airmen had specific rules to follow when it came to preflight routines. Pilots and military officers were instructed to have two instruments in working order, their compass and a wristwatch. Due to the rudimentary maps and flight equipment of the time, most pilots used their watches to perform “dead-reckoning” flying, which consists of estimating the position of an aircraft or a ship without astronomical observations, as by applying to a previously determined position the course and distance traveled since.

On the inaugural flights between New York City and Washington, D.C. on May 15, 1918, Postmaster Burleson presented Major Fleet with engraved watches for himself and the six other pilots of the US Airmail. These Hamilton watches were known as the watches with “Railroad Accuracy” and an aviator’s necessity.

Fossil, Inc. is a company that prides themselves on their commitment to American vintage inspiration. Although they have touched upon the topic of commercial aviation, a more focused pilot line would be a perfect conception for the soon to be US Post Office’s 100th anniversary for the introduction of airmail. This aeronautical inspired line of watches, cases and bags would be a celebration to this American milestone of the early 1900’s.

Footnote: I am currently scouting out people to act as a mentor, aviator lover, watch appreciator or projection mapper. Please feel free to reach out and share your stories of airmail (and if say your grandma/pa was involved that could be super neat too)



Danielle Williams