It’s a bird; it’s a plane; it’s rocket mail! From the 1930s to the 1950s, several countries toyed with the idea of rocket (or missile) mail as a faster way to lob letters and parcels from point A to point B. Call me a worry wart, but I find the notion of any postal service aiming a missile my way a less-than-great notion.
The idea of adding a new dimension to the phrase “firing off a letter” first surfaced in the early 1800s when Heinrich von Kleist suggested shooting artillery shells filled with mail packets to speed them on their way. However, no one actually loaded letters onto a rocket until Friedrich Schmiedl launched a V-7 in 1931, carrying 102 pieces of mail between two towns in Austria.
Other enthusiasts conducted rocket mail experiments through the early 1930s in Germany, India, the United States and Scotland, where both rockets blew up, but organizers recovered several slightly singed letters and popped them into the regular post.
Rocket mail was grounded during World War II, but American hobbyists in the 1950s picked up the fad and launched small mail-carrying rockets from California across the Colorado River to Arizona. The U.S. government finally joined the fun in 1959 when the navy partnered with the Post Office Department to deliver missile mail. On June 8, the submarine USS Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile (carrying mail containers rather than a nuclear warhead) to the Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Florida.
Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield said, “This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation.”
And you know what? I hope it’s the LAST use of a guided missile by any post office in any nation!
Rocket mail never took off after that. The Russians launched a few experimental mail rockets in more recent decades, but no one has ever been able to justify the cost when planes can fly letters overseas in a day, and now email and texts can arrive in seconds.
Still, I guess the image of a postman saying “All systems are go!” has more panache than “Do you want to send that Priority Mail?”
Read more about rocket mail here.