Early airmail in South Jersey: the story continues

by Harlan B. Radford, Jr.

Marshall E Reid Mail Plane on Stone Harbor beach

A Google search of “Marshall, Stone Harbor, and Early Planes” by Jeffrey Arrington of Baltimore landed him on rivertonhistory.com where he found our 2015 post, “The First Air Mail Flights in South Jersey – 1912.” This serendipitous encounter with a reader has resulted in Mr. Arrington’s sharing of some remarkable family photos that further document Stone Harbor’s short-lived foray into airmail service.

Mr. Arrington explained that he had photos connected to that 2015 story, some of them actually depicting airmail pioneer pilot Marshall E. Reid and his Wright Brothers flying machine carrying the mail at the seashore resort Stone Harbor in 1912. Jeffrey Arrington’s own words explain how he came to have these stunning photos.

Harlow C. Simpson (1891-1959) was my maternal grandfather. I was born in August 1959 and he died in September. He saw me once but I never knew him personally. Harlow ran the family’s seed mill in Norristown, Pa. after his father, Edward D. Simpson who died in 1918.

My uncle Henry (Hank) Simpson, helped his father run the mill and inherited it when he died. Harlow had placed family portraits and two envelopes of large format negatives in the mill. When the mill closed down after damage caused by Hurricane Agnes in 1972, Hank moved the portraits and negatives to a box in the attic. Henry died in 1996 and his wife Betty died earlier this year.

While preparing the house (a 1700’s home) for sale my cousin, Amy Simpson, discovered the box (and knowing how much I follow our family history) gave it to me. I couldn’t make out what was on the negatives but in the envelope marked “Stone Harbor beach” I saw what looked to be an early plane. I sent all the negatives to a Baltimore photo lab where they were developed.

Marshall E Reid Mail Plane

Looking at the blurry action photo of the plane I could make out the elongated word “MARSHALL” on the underside of the wing. A Google search of Marshall, Stone Harbor and Early Planes brought me to your excellent article. I did a search on your name and found your contact information.

Based on the information provided to me by Jeffrey Arrington, I will provide some context regarding these intriguing photos. Three of the five photos probably have never been published or viewed by the public before. (Side note – Harlow’s father, Edward, and his uncle, Howard A. Simpson had a joint business venture in Stone Harbor and maintained summer homes there in the summer of 1912.)

Harlow C Simspon c1920

This is Harlow Simpson c1920. He was an “avid photographer” also known for taking pictures of Spanish-American War veterans marching in a parade in Norristown. On or about August 3, 1912, he was on that Stone Harbor beach to capture a key moment in Stone Harbor history when temporary airmail service was established between the South Jersey seashore resort communities of Ocean City and Stone Harbor.

Marshall E Reid Mail Plane on Stone Harbor beach – detail

The aircraft has landed on Stone Harbor beach. It appears that there are two occupants onboard this airplane. The occupant on the right may very well be a female passenger. The literature on these flights does confirm that Pilot Marshall Reid occasionally took paying passengers, including women, up for short scenic flights.

Marshall Reid owned a 1911 model Wright ‘pusher type’ two-winged aircraft often referred to as a bi-plane. Interestingly, this plane was driven by two propellers that were connected with the engine by nothing more than bicycle chains. The plane had a wingspan of forty-five feet when unoccupied and weighed about 600 pounds. It cost Reid $5,000 and the engine alone itself was worth $2,000. And yes, this aircraft was built by the famous brothers, Orville and Wilbur Wright of Dayton, Ohio.

Late in the afternoon on August 3, 1912, and with considerable fanfare, a special postal courier delivered a bag loaded with mail that had been postmarked that day at Ocean City to be carried onboard the first airmail flight to Stone Harbor. Pilot Marshall Reid fastened the bag of mail to his plane and took off at 5:45 PM.
Flying along the shoreline, Reid and his mechanic maintained an altitude of about 150 feet and progressed southward past resort communities including Strathmere, Sea Isle City, Avalon, and finally to Stone Harbor.

Marshall E Reid Mail Plane landing on beach at Stone Harbor NJ – cropped

The landing on the beach at Stone Harbor occurred at 6:14 PM, covering the 19-mile distance in some 29 minutes. Reid dropped off his bag of mail, checked over his aircraft, and within just minutes he received another bag of mail from the Stone Harbor Postmaster and returned back northward to Ocean City.

Reid also made four round trips from Stone Harbor carrying only passengers on the next day, Sunday, August 4. As best as can be determined, the mail flights were only conducted from Ocean City on August 3, 5, 9, and 10 and from Stone Harbor on August 3, 7, and 9. The weather that week limited the number of mail-carrying flights, thus accounting for the erratic schedule of dates that Reid actually flew mail.

In the four trips from Ocean City during that week Marshall Reid transported 11,456 pieces of mail and on the three trips from Stone Harbor, he is known to have carried just 1,059 pieces of mail.

Most of the mail flown on these particular flights were picture postcards that bore a 1-cent postage stamp, as that was the domestic postage rate at that time for postcards. Sealed letters mailed at that time required 2-cents pre-paid postage. In addition, all mail actually flown on these special flights bear properly dated official postmarks from each of the two towns along with a written or even printed or inked notation stating “VIA AEROPLANE MAIL” or ‘VIA AIRPLANE.” He flew a grand total of 12,615 pieces of mail. On the last trip from Ocean City Reid flew over 5,000 pieces of mail.

Transporting mail by air in 1912 was an unusual and novel idea and the concept certainly did capture the interest and attention of many people. However, very few of these flown airmail pieces have actually survived to this day. Locating and acquiring one such specially flown item is indeed a rare and expensive find. Among aerophilatelists this collectible is an outstanding example of postal history.

Postcard with handwritten notation VIA AEROPLANE

The vintage postcard example shown here first features the address and message side showing a standard Ocean City postmark and was actually carried onboard one of the four southbound flights and dated “AUG. 9 – 12 – 1 PM” with six elongated straight killer bars in black ink. Note the hand-applied two-line cachet imprint in magenta ink indicating “OCEAN CITY & STONE HARBOR / AERIAL U.S. MAIL SERVICE” and the hand-written endorsement “Via Aeroplane.”

Boardwalk and Beach, looking North from 8th st., Ocean City, NJ

The picture side of this rare flown postcard is titled “Boardwalk and Beach, looking North from 8th St., Ocean City, N.J.” This classic vintage image depicts well-dressed summer strollers on the popular boardwalk skirting along the ocean surf, countless small shops, two pavilions or gazebos, a fishing pier jutting out into the ocean, and a sign advertising a local eatery known as Tahoma Restaurant.

Marshall E Reid Mail Plane on Stone Harbor beach – crop

Above, the aircraft has apparently just landed on Stone Harbor beach. Under enlargement, note several important features: the large ocean-front buildings in the background; the small gathering of spectators and their attire; a cameraman holding his camera and tripod; the entire aircraft in full frontal view; and someone, perhaps a passenger, seated onboard the aircraft alongside a seat for the pilot.

Marshall E Reid Mail Plane

This dramatic, albeit blurry, photo seen earlier suggests the speed and movement of Reid’s aeroplane as it took off from the beach at Stone Harbor and headed back north to Ocean City.

underside lower wing

Look more closely, as Jeffrey Arrington did, at the underside of the lower wing.

Below, corrected for skew, lightened, and sharpened – now the name is more evident.

MARSHALL underside lower wing

Imagine Jeffrey Arrington’s “eureka moment” when he saw the word “MARSHALL” in bold capital letters emblazoned there and found our 2015 article that confirmed his ancestor’s involvement in airmail history.

group at Stone Harbor U.S.L.S.S c1909

This idyllic summertime view depicts a group of young people c1909 spending a leisurely day at Tatham Life Saving Station, the oldest building in Stone Harbor.

Linnie Kogelschatz, about 17, c1909

The young woman standing in the back row on the far right was photographer Harlow Simpson’s girlfriend, Linnie Kogelschatz (1892-1964), at perhaps 17 years old. Simpson later married her in 1920 and she in time became Jeffrey Arrington’s maternal grandmother.

Marshall Earle Reed’s aeroplane, c1912, postally unused, Inscription on address side states: “Marshall Earle Reed’s (sic – name is misspelled here) aeroplane alighting on the Beach at Stone Harbor.

This vintage 1912 era postcard shows a somewhat difficult to discern view of Marshall Reid’s airplane in the distance alighting on the beach at Stone Harbor. We understand that pioneer pilot Reid wore aviator goggles and sat on the bag of mail in a rickety bucket seat just in front of the motor.

Talk about flying on the seat of your pants!

Five similar postcard views below show the Tatham Life Saving Station. Observe the sturdy surfboat ready to be launched with a very large rowing oar that has been wheeled out of its storage bay on the beach and facing the ocean and ready for action should need be.

Note in two of the photos, a large sign displays the numerals “132” on the left side of the building. The Coast Guard painted them to aid airplanes to accurately identify each of the 41 lifesaving stations along the New Jersey shoreline.

So there you have it! And thanks to this new information from contributor Jeffrey Arrington, the story of the first airmail flights in South Jersey is now more complete.

Do you have something laying in a mill, a basement, a dresser drawer, etc. that would elaborate upon this or another post here on rivertonhistory.com? Please use the contact form below. The Historical Society of Riverton welcomes your stories, first-hand accounts, photos, as well as your comments.

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John McCormick

Teacher at Riverton School 1974-2019, author, amateur historian, Historical Society of Riverton Board Member 2007-2023, newsletter editor 2007-2023, website editor 2011-2023

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