Alaska's Winter Mails

World War II Era, 1938-1950

Scott US 2635
Alaska Highway
issued 1992.
The Alaska Highway was completed in 1942 to connect military bases in Alaska with the lower 48 states.

Scott US 1132
49 Star Flag
issued 1959.
On Independence Day, six months after Alaska became a state, this stamp was issued representing the new US flag with 49 stars.

Scott US 2066
Alaska Statehood
issued 1984.
Honors the first 25 years of statehood for Alaska.

For some time prior to 1938, the Postmaster General had authority to provide "emergency mail" service in Alaska. This included the ability to build or maintain way stations, trails, and facilities and to hire contractors to carry mail without going through a lengthy bid process. The authority also permitted mail paid at surface rates to be sent via air if there was no surface transport available.

In 1938, Congress removed this discretionary ability from the Postmaster's authorization. One consequence of this change seems to have been the perpetuation of dog team mail handling in the winter months, even though air transport might have been available.

In the period following this change, and through all of the War, covers can be found with clear markings indicating that they were carried by dog team. At present, I am not certain whether this was intended to promote the effectiveness of the dog team mails, or to embarrass the Post Office for its apparent inability to switch to more modern transport. It may in fact have been both.

Cover above was mailed from Wainwright, March 16, 1937 and received in Barrow March 19th. Endorsement lower left indicates that this was for "Emergency Mail Service" but the words "via Airplane from:" were struck out and replaced with "By Dogsled Mail." Postage was prepaid at the normal surface rate of 3 cents.

When the emergency mail provision was in force, mail was carried by whatever means was available, regardless of the postage paid. The cover above, though paid at the surface rate of 3 cents when mailed at Ophir on January 9, 1942, is endorsed and backstamped to indicate that it traveled via air to Fairbanks (route 78120) before being transferred to dogsled for the rest of its trip to Poorman (route 78719.) See backstamps below.

This Alaska Dog Team Post cachet, artwork signed by M. Fay Muybridge, was mailed from Stevens Village, February 1, 1942. It went to Nome and was forwarded from there to Nelliston, New York. Note signature of Charles A. Clement, then postmaster of Stevens Village. There is no backstamp from Nome, though one might have been expected.

Here is another Alaska Dog Team Post cover, mailed from Kotzebue on January 31, 1946. Note endorsement with the star route number 78151 at the top. Backstamp from Wainwright on March 12 seems most likely to indicate when the letter was forwarded out of general delivery to its ultimate destination of Milwaukie, Oregon. Surely it didn't spend five weeks on the trail with the dogs...or did it?

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Created by Gary Lee Phillips, mail to

1998 Gary Lee Phillips.