In contrast to most of the national governments in Europe, which actively supported the development of aeroplanes and aviation (prompted undoubtedly by anticipation of the coming great war), the U.S. federal government provided virtually no funding to promote and encourage aeronautical development, in either the civilian or military realms. The refusal of the U.S. Government to assist in the formation and development of an aeronautical infrastructure had a major negative effect on the progress of aviation in the U.S. during the period.
The development of aeroplanes in the United States was left to the efforts and resources of individuals and small companies. Even after the federal government of the United States purchased its first aeroplane, the Wright Military Flyer in 1909, only private individuals and companies made significant efforts to development aerial technology.
As 1914 came, a large number of the nation's Aero Clubs, which had been formed only a year or two before, ceased to exist, and the bloom was unmistakably off the rose. Something approaching 800 exhibitions were given during 1914, 126 of which were given by one aviator, Lincoln Beachey. Three of the four most successful aviators of that year flew under contract to Lincoln Beachey, Incorporated, the business formed to handle bookings for Beachey. During 1914 Lincoln Beachey, Inc. managed to make $250,000 dollars (about $3,500,000 in current dollars), an indication of the continuing interest people had in aviation, and an indication of the adept scheduling and logistical ability of Lincoln Beachey, Inc.
The death of Beachey in March 1915, during an exhibition at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, California, marked the effective end of the Exhibition Era. The Great War, then raging in Europe, spurred the technical development of aviation, but the personal wonder that people must have felt while watching a flying machine move through the air during the Exhibition Era established flying as a present and future reality, and set the stage for the popularization and commercialization of aviation after the Great War.
Postcards were very much in evidence during the Exhibition Era, for nearly every aviator of the period had at least one standard postcard for sale, often showing the machine in flight with an inset portrait of the aviator.
Some of the most famed aviators and aeronauts of the era for whom postcards were published included Harry Atwood, Jack Dallas, Walter Brookins, Arch Hoxsey, Glenn Curtiss, Wilbur and Orville Wright, Hugh Robinson, Beckwith Havens, Eugene Ely, Cromwell Dixon, Bud Mars, DeLloyd Thompson, Art Smith, Fred Hoover, Hubert Latham, Earle Ovington, Roy Knabenshue, Frank Goodale, Max Lillie, Stan Hiller, Louis Bleriot, Charles Hamilton, Cal Rodgers, Bob St. Henry, George Beatty, "Uncle" Tom Baldwin, Katherine Stinson, Marjorie Stinson, Frank Coffyn, Farnum Fish, Matilde Moisant, Tony Jannus, Silas Christofferson, Louis Paulhan, Horace Kearny, Glenn Martin, Julia Clark, John Moisant, Charles Niles, Cliff Turpin, George Gray, Charles Willard, Tom Gunn, Charles Witmer, Phil Parmelee, Bob Fowler, Harriet Quimby, Blanche Stuart Scott, Roy Francis, Ruth Law, Howard Gill, Charles Walsh, William Robinson, Alys McKey Bryant, Walter Brock, Jimmy Ward, and, of course, the Beachey Brothers, Hillery and Lincoln.
The great aviation meets often were held for a week or more, and enterprising postcard publishers would often manage to have postcards for sale as souvenirs at the meet, depicting events which had just happened a day or two before.
Aviation "wreck" postcards were a popular genre during the period, as were series of postcards depicting highlights of an aviation meet. As was common with postcards of other subjects, photos from one event might very well end up being used to depict another event, through the simple expedient of altering the caption.
Photographic prints on postcards (known as "real photo" postcards) were very popular as souvenirs of these aviation events, as were colored drawings featuring realistic or very fantastic colored images. Folding postcards, some quite rare, were generally produced either beforehand as promotional items, or after the event as souvenirs. Actual-photo postcards, often unique images of an aeroplane exhibition taken by people in the crowd with their own cameras, are also sometimes encountered, although commercially produced real-photo postcards are by far the most common. Halftone ("litho") postcards were also produced in great numbers. Pioneer aviation postcards, those published prior to World War I, are a fascinating subset of that great pastime, deltiology (postcard collecting, of course!).