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An Overview:

Early 1900s: The Pioneering Years

Early 1900s: The concept of using aircraft for cargo transportation started shortly after the Wright Brothers’ historic flight. In 1910, the first recorded flight with cargo took place when a Wright Model B aircraft carried silk from Dayton to Columbus, Ohio.

The story was covered in that day’s Dayton Herald newspaper. Here is a glimpse of the reporting about the event:

“Aviator Phil Parmalee landed (in Columbus),Ohio, USA at 11:50, after a continuous 62-mile cross-country flight from Dayton,Ohio in a Wright biplane, carrying a consignment of silk from a Dayton firm to the Morehouse-Martens Company. He maintained an altitude of 1,000 feet during the flight”.

Roy Knabenshue, manager of the Wright fliers, stated that Parmalee had broken the world’s cross-country speed record in his flight from Dayton. He figures Parmalee made an average of 69 miles per hour, as he went out of his way in getting here. Parmalee says he flew about 65 miles altogether

The world’s first freight aeroplane left Huffman Prairie at 10:39 Monday morning carrying five bolts of silk, weighing 47 pounds, consigned to the Morehouse-Martens Company, retail dry goods merchants, Columbus.

Ohio has been home to many aviation pioneers, from the Wright brothers to Neil Armstrong, whose accomplishments are recognized in history books and celebrated in museums. Innovations by companies such as Curtiss and Goodyear are well-known by those who study aviation history. But one lesser known, though important, aviation first is also connected to Ohio: the first cargo flight.

On November 7, 1910, a Wright Model B airplane piloted by Philip Parmalee carried ten bolts of fabric from Dayton, Ohio, to Columbus, Ohio. Parmalee completed the 65-mile journey from Dayton’s Huffman Prairie Testing Ground to the Driving Park in Columbus in 71 minutes. It was the first time cargo was shipped by airplane. The photograph on the left shows Parmalee seated in the plane with packages of fabric secured next to him while Orville Wright oils the Model B airplane’s engine.

The idea to use airplanes for commercial purposes came from Max Morehouse, president of the Morehouse-Martens Company of Columbus. Morehouse realized the potential for shipping goods by airplane after reading about aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss’s successful flight from Sandusky, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio. He contacted Orville and Wilbur Wright to see if they could deliver a bolt of ribbon from the Elder & Johnston Co., a wholesaler in Dayton, to his store’s home city of Columbus. Roy Knabenshue, general manager of the Wrights’ exhibition department, arranged a contract between the Morehouse-Martens Company and the Wright Company, under which the latter agreed to furnish a plane and pilot for the venture for a fee of $5,000.

The 10 bolts of fabric were divided into two packages; one contained a single bolt of dark pink silk fabric while the other contained the remaining nine bolts in assorted colors.

In total, the shipment weighed about 70 pounds. The package of pink silk, secured to Parmalee’s left in the previous image, was cut into pieces and attached to commemorative cards after the successful conclusion of the flight. The Ohio History Connection has one such card in its collection, which you can see below.

Although it would be years before commercial air shipments were financially feasible, the November 7, 1910, air cargo flight marked yet another Ohio innovation in airplane history.Interested in learning more about the first cargo

World War I: During World War I, aircraft were used to transport mail and cargo, marking the first military application of air cargo. The United States Post Office started experimenting with airmail service.

1920s: Commercial Air Cargo Begins

1920: The first scheduled international airmail service was launched between Canada and the United States. This marked the beginning of regular commercial air cargo operations.

1927: Charles Lindbergh’s famous transatlantic flight carried mail and cargo, demonstrating the potential of air cargo for long-distance transportation.

1930s: Air Freight Services Expand

1930: United Airlines introduced the first all-cargo service, operating between New York and San Francisco.

1931: The Air Mail Act (also known as the Kelly Act) authorized the U.S. Post Office to contract with private airlines for mail and cargo transportation, encouraging the growth of commercial air cargo services.

World War II: A Turning Point

1940s: World War II saw a significant expansion of air cargo as aircraft were used for military transport. The Berlin Airlift in 1948-49, in which cargo planes supplied West Berlin during a Soviet blockade, is a notable example.

1950s: Commercial Cargo Grows

1950: The International Air Transport Association (IATA) began standardizing air cargo procedures and regulations, promoting international airfreight.

1957: The Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 jetliners revolutionized air cargo, allowing faster, more efficient transport.

1960s-1970s: Containerization and Globalization

1960: The introduction of unit load devices (ULDs) and standardized air cargo containers improved handling efficiency.

1970: The U.S. Air Mail Act of 1925 was replaced by the Postal Reorganization Act, leading to the establishment of the United States Postal Service (USPS), which continued to use air cargo for mail transport.

1980s-1990s: Deregulation and Modernization

1980s: Air cargo underwent significant changes with deregulation, allowing greater flexibility in pricing and operations. Integrators like FedEx and UPS emerged.

1990s: E-commerce and globalization boosted the demand for air cargo, making it a vital part of supply chains worldwide. The express cargo market flourished, led by companies like DHL, FedEx, and UPS.

2000s-Present: Technological Advancements and Sustainability

2000s-Present: Advancements in tracking technology, such as RFID and GPS, improved cargo visibility and security.

Sustainability: In recent years, the air cargo industry has been working on reducing its environmental footprint through fuel-efficient aircraft, sustainable practices, and carbon offset programs.

Today, air cargo plays a critical role in global trade and logistics, connecting businesses and consumers around the world. It continues to evolve with technological innovations and sustainability efforts, ensuring the efficient and responsible movement of goods. The history of air cargo reflects its transformation from a novelty to a fundamental part of the global economy.

Short Course Modules:

Module 1: Early Beginnings of Air Cargo

  1. The Wright Brothers and Air Freight
  2. First Air Cargo Flights
  3. Role of Airships in Cargo Transport
  4. Challenges of Early Air Cargo
  5. Types of Air Cargo and its Shipment Procedures

Module 2: Air Cargo During World War I

  1. Military Cargo Aircraft
  2. Aerial Resupply Missions
  3. Innovations in Air Cargo Handling
  4. Legacy of WWI in Air Cargo

Module 3: The Birth of Commercial Air Cargo

  1. Post-WWII Commercial Cargo
  2. The Introduction of Cargo Airlines
  3. Emergence of Scheduled Cargo Flights
  4. The Impact of the Marshall Plan

Module 4: The Jet Age and Air Cargo Revolution

  1. Introduction of Jet Cargo Aircraft
  2. Role of Containerization in Air Cargo
  3. Growth of Overnight Cargo Services
  4. The Rise of Integrators

Module 5: International Air Cargo and Global Trade

  1. Air Cargo in International Trade
  2. Development of Cargo Hub Airports
  3. The Role of Freight Forwarders
  4. Air Cargo Security Measures
  5. Perishable Cargo and its Categories

Module 6: Air Cargo in the Modern Era

  1. Technological Advancements in Air Cargo
  2. Sustainability in Air Cargo
  3. E-commerce and Air Freight
  4. Air Cargo Trends and Challenges
  5. DGR Regulations for Different Categories of Air Cargo

Module 7: Specialized Cargo Transport

  1. Perishables and Cold Chain Logistics
  2. Hazmat Cargo Regulations
  3. Oversized and Heavy Cargo
  4. Animal and Humanitarian Cargo

Module 8: Air Cargo Safety and Security

  1. Air Cargo Safety Standards
  2. Cargo Security Measures
  3. Screening and Inspection Protocols
  4. Cargo Theft Prevention

Module 9: Future Trends in Air Cargo

  1. Drone and Unmanned Cargo Aircraft
  2. Sustainable Air Cargo Initiatives
  3. Digitalization and Cargo Tracking
  4. Air Cargo’s Role in Healthcare
  5. Types of Dangerous Goods (DGR),IATA Courses for Air Cargo Handlers 

Module 10: The Legacy and Future of Air Cargo

  1. Air Cargo’s Contribution to Economic Growth
  2. The People Behind Air Cargo
  3. Commemorative Stamps and Artifacts
  4. The Inspiring Future of Air Cargo