History of Railway Mail Service and Airmail Service

October 1854 saw the formation of a centralized control of the subcontinent’s post offices under the first Director General. That year also saw the establishment of a Railway Mail Service across India – with a skeletal network of 701 post offices across the subcontinent -- and a new sea mail service from India to Great Britain and China .

In the year 1911, another postal “first” was achieved in India . In February that year, a French pilot, named Henri Pequet, flew with 6,500 pieces of mail in a biplane from Allahabad to Naini (a distance of six miles).

Here is the story of how that historic flight actually came about…

That year, Sir Walter Windham – a great adventurer, sailor and motorcar racer – was touring India with eight aero planes and two European pilots (one of whom was Frenchman Pequet). In Allahabad , the Chaplain of the Holy Trinity Church approached Sir Windham to help him raise funds for a new hostel for Indian students that were planning to build. Sir Windham hit upon a novel plan to raise the money – he planned to inaugurate an Aerial Post.

The local public was invited to deliver stamped and addressed mail to the Chaplain of the Church, enclosing six annas (1/6th of a Rupee) with every letter to be posted by air. The extra surcharge was donated towards the fund for the new hostel.

Frenchman Pequet, flying one of Sir Windham’s biplanes, carried the load of mail for the first time through the air. He landed his plane just 6 miles from Allahabad at the town of Naini . Here, the mail was handed over to the postal authorities, who sent them by surface transportation to destinations across the world. Well technically, the mail had flown a part of its passage through the air! And so, for historical purposes, this is recognized as the world’s first Air Mail delivery! The flight – by divine chance – happened to coincide with the Maha Kumbh festival. And thus, as Pequet’s biplane flew in the air, it was viewed by at least 1 million Hindu pilgrims bathing below in the Ganges . A special postmark was used on this inaugural Allahabad flight – which showed a biplane flying over the peaks of the Himalayas . In addition, the mailbag also contained a number of picture postcards showing Pequet’s biplane. These postcards were autographed by Pequet. They were sold for the (then) princely sum of one rupee! Today, these postcards are priceless collector’s items and are coveted by philatelists across the world!

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