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Airmail - Made In Buffalo - 1873 | Community Spirit

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Airmail - Made In Buffalo - 1873
Airmail - Made In Buffalo - 1873

Buffalo NY- 1873    

   Perhaps the most enigmatic of all American stamps, the "Buffalo" balloon stamp is certainly among the premier rarities in aerophilately. This stamp begs the question, “What is an airmail stamp?” Described variously as “experimental,” “semi-official,” “a carrying label,” and even as a vignette or cinderella, the fact remains that it was the first of its kind ever issued. Since it was privately issued for use with a standard U.S. postal service 3-cent stamp to pay for air handling of a mailed piece, it was (if one includes both private and government issues) the world’s first airmail stamp.

    The stamp is an accurate representation of the enormous 92,000 cubic foot “Buffalo” balloon of Professor Samuel Archer King (1828-1914).  The Buffalo balloon launched from Nashville, Tennessee, on June 18, 1877, and dropped a number of covers, probably in containing envelopes or drop bags sewn to brightly colored nine-foot streamers. After a Gallatin, Tennessee, landing, there was a second flight the next morning. There were also other, later flights of the "Buffalo", and covers could have been flown on any of those flights.

    Few if any Buffalonians realize not only was the balloon named, honoring this city, "Which has shown so much interest in Aeronautics"(S.A. King), it was actually built right here in Buffalo, probably the first aircraft ever built in this city. I’ve found no earlier record of such an event. More importantly to note, it was built in what we now know as "Canalside" downtown on the corner of Prime and Llyod Streets, in the Aetna Insurance building. There should be a marker commemorating this event.

     ...The balloon, when inflated, will be in the form of a sphere, excepting of course, the elongation of the neck. The circumference will be about 170 feet, the diameter 56 feet. It will contain 90,000 cubic feet of gas, having a supporting capacity of about 3,600 pounds... The decorations of the bag of the balloon deserve special mention.  They have been elaborated by the artists in the employ of Frederick Stanfield, the scenic painter of the Academy of Music...

Buffalo Express Sept. 17 1873

...The history of ballooning is an interesting one. To soar aloft into an unknown region possesses a fascination for those who behold as for those who ascend. Certainly the large number of people who congregated yesterday on the Terrace to witness the ascension of Prof. King in his new mammoth balloon "Buffalo", evinced the deep curiosity and interest generally felt. The new city buildings and all the other edifices in the neighborhood of the Park were covered with people, anxious to get the best possible view of the novel and unusual sight... Watching for a lull in the wind King gave the word to "LET GO!" and up went the "Buffalo".

   Clearing everything handsomely, we were quickly looking downward, while the cheers of the immense multitude rent the very air around us.  Ten thousand steam-whistles, as it seemed, lent the aid of their brazen lungs (if they've got any, which is somewhat problematical) to swell the loud acclaim; and even the tower bell added the weight of it's influence towards increasing the general uproar. Those in the balloon waved hats and handkerchiefs, and cheered with might and main, in response. 

   The Scene below was very fine. Every approach, for blocks as it seemed, to the place of ascension; every foot of ground, every housetop, fence, window and pile of lumber, even, was literally packed, and we can compare the multitude to nothing better calculated to give an approximate idea of it's numerical vastness than one universal swarm of bees after settleing from flight. There seemed, in every truth, to be a perfect sea of upturned faces. The impression of the writer is that the crowd has been much underrated. It seemed that there could not be less than seventy-five thousand people gazing heavenward at the balloon...

   The maiden flight of the Balloon Buffalo was a well documented famous voyage in which he conducted meteorlogical readings during his flight. He, and four others, had along carrier pigeons to send messages of the progress of his flight back to Buffalo. 

Samuel Archer King was the oldest living Aeronaut when he died in 1914 with 480 voyages to his credit.


This is only a short summary of the story. Read the complete account and my editorial at the end, in The Buffalo History Gazette

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