Morton Marcus: An unusual museum reminds us of a business milestone

In the small forest behind our house, the leaves are falling in showers of color.

They return to the earth the nutrients taken from the earth. It is one of the great cycles of nature.

Those who ascribe a consciousness to trees might say the trees are thanking the ground from which they grew. Others would claim the trees are acting in their own self-interest, assembling a form of savings for their own future betterment.

This is also the season for organizations with all sorts of meaningful causes to solicit donations. The basic concept is parallel to the trees and the leaves. Our status in life, to some degree, is due to the conditions in which we have been placed or we have chosen.

Organizations from our past and present remind us of their missions and seek our financial support for their programs. We are asked to return to others the opportunities we have enjoyed.

One such organization is Indiana Landmarks, which rescues and restores buildings and structures in which Hoosiers created the environment, economy, and families in which we live today.

We also have historical societies in many counties, as well as an Indiana Historical Society and an Indiana State Museum. However, Indiana has few museums dedicated to the businesses in this state that have shaped development of the nation. Where are the museums of the metal or wood industries that have shaped our state?

There are some folks developing the Airmail Museum of Fort Wayne at Smith Field, on the north side of today’s city. The plan is to tell the story of the people and machines that made airmail possible. It is a story filled with adventure and reckless devotion to the concept, “The mail must go through.”

Mail service was the essential means of exchanging information when letters, pamphlets and newspapers carried the call to revolution in the 18th century. The abolition of 19th-century slavery was advanced though the mails. The 20th century saw retail trade transformed by mail-order houses.

Mail to and from regional centers by air was inaugurated in 1911. However, air mail did not really take off until 1918, when regular routes from Washington to Philadelphia and New York began. In the early 1920s, mail was flown from New York to San Francisco in just 33 hours. By 1927, air service was so well developed, the postal service began to contract shipments by commercial carriers.

Early on, Fort Wayne was a key part of the system. Now, Indiana can have a midwestern museum that gives wings to understanding how aviation revolutionized business and household communication before the internet.

History gives structure to understanding how we got where we are. Only then can we see paths to our future more clearly.