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These days, air travel is a convenient, reliable, and fast method of transportation. What used to take days by vehicle now takes just hours by plane. But in its early years, the U.S. air transport industry needed a bit of a boost to gain the public's confidence. Two of the individuals who helped air travel gain mainstream acceptance made for an unlikely pair - Herbert Hoover and Santa Claus.
Before becoming ignominiously known for being the U.S. president at the start of the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce. Hoover worked to establish regulations that made the aviation industry safer, more efficient, and more widely used. In 1926, Hoover established an Aeronautics Branch within the Department of Commerce to drastically increase the number of lighted runways around the country and ensure they were equipped with dependable weather and navigational equipment. As air travel became safer and easier, American businesses gained a reliable new option for shipping products.
In a notable publicity stunt that was captured in an iconic photo, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Aeronautics William P. MacCracken issued Santa Claus his official pilot’s license and a series of airway maps on December 24, 1927. Santa was also promised that runway lights would be burning bright for his journey on Christmas Eve. The thinking was that if Santa Claus was happy to deliver Christmas gifts this way, American businesses could also put their trust in air travel.
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?
- In 2020, Santa Claus was given permission to engage in interstate air-cargo-delivery services by the Federal Aviation Administration. He was also issued a special commercial space license to help him safely navigate through the National Airspace System.
- William P. MacCracken was awarded the first federal pilot license in the United States. Orville Wright had been offered the first license, but declined.
- In the 1920s, the Department of Commerce also began working with the U.S. Post Office to deliver mail by airplane for the first time.