The First Airmail

Article - Lafayette Daily Journal, August 15, 1859Program from newspaper. Lafayette Daily Journal, August 15, 1859.

John Wise, a nineteenth-century professional balloonist from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, knew upper air currents in the Midwest blew from west to east. He believed that he could carry light mail and passengers in a balloon from the Midwest to the east coast.

The citizens of Lafayette, Indiana invited Wise to prove his theory. On August 16, 1859, thousands of people gathered to watch. The program for the day (at left) indicates the preparations and the showmanship.

An accident delayed the trip until August 17. Finally, Wise ascended with official U.S. Post Office mail--123 letters and 23 pamphlets. Wise's destination was New York City. He descended in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

The U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp on the centennial of the trip, August 17, 1959.

Sources: Lafayette Journal and Courier, August 15, 1959; Richard B. Wetherill, "The First Official Air Mail," Indiana Magazine of History, 35:4 (December 1939), 390-99.