On This Day

missile mail, rocket mail, uss barbero
Smithsonian Institution/National Postal Museum
A Regulus I missile is fired from USS Barbero, June 8, 1959.

On This Day: US Postal Service Attempts “Missile Mail” for First and Last Time

June 08, 2011 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On June 8, 1959, a U.S. Navy submarine launched 3,000 letters via missile from Virginia to Florida.

“Missile Mail” Test Is Successful

There had been many amateur attempts at delivering mail by rocket in the early 20th century, most of which ended in failure. In the 1950s, the United States Postal Service partnered with the Department of Defense to create a missile-based mail delivery system that could transport mail more accurately than rockets.

The USPS and Defense Department ran just one test of their missile mail system; on June 8, 1959, the USS Barbaro Navy submarine, stationed near Norfolk, Va., fired an unarmed Regulus I missile holding two containers with 3,000 letters inside them. Twenty-two minutes later, the missile and its postal payload arrived safely at a U.S. Naval Station in Mayport, Fla.

Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield, who witnessed the event, considered missile mail the future. He remarked, “Before man reaches the moon, mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles.”

History has proven them wrong, however. At the time of the launch, the Department of Defense saw the measure more as a demonstration of U.S. missile capabilities during the Cold War than a practical method of delivering mail.

The History of Rocket and Missile Mail

There were several notable efforts at rocket-propelled mail delivery preceding the U.S. government’s missile mail. In 1931, Austrian engineer Friedrich Schmiedl successfully fired 100 pieces of mail from one Austrian village to another.

German businessman Gerhard Zucker tried to popularize rocket mail in the 1930s, although he had his share of failures. In one case, he tried to launch a rocket between two Scottish Islands but an unfortunate explosion destroyed the 1,200 traveling envelopes. British officials then proceeded to deport Zucker back to Germany for mail fraud.

In 1936, an American Legion Post in a Texas town attempted to fire mail into Mexico. “The first rocket blew up in mid-air, sending its contents raining down in pieces, writes the Smithsonian’s  National Postal Museum. “The second rocket landed on a cantina in Reynosa, fortunately without hurting anyone or causing much damage.”

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