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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Phila-Trivia: Got A Rocket in Your Pocket? The Missile Mail Fiasco

Be thankful that one of the U.S. Navy's late-1950s solutions to the problem of slow mail delivery never caught on because, if it had, you could be ducking unarmed cruise missiles right now. On June 8, 1959, the U.S. submarine Barbero conducted the first and last test of so-called "Missile Mail," a concept that involved using a warhead-less Regulus cruise missile to carry postal containers.

The U.S. Postal Service devised the Missile Mail test as a combination experiment and publicity stunt in the hopes of finding alternative uses for military technology and more expeditious methods of delivering the mail. At the time, U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield hailed Missile Mail as "the first known official use of missiles by any post office department of any nation… [and an event] of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world." Summerfield went on to predict that "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. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail."

Clairvoyant, Summerfield was not. Considering the absurdity of using cruise missiles for civilian purposes during the Cold War, to say nothing of the inherent danger of firing weapons over civilian locations at regular intervals, or the high probability that the four-cent (domestic) and eight-cent (international) stamps on the rocket-powered postage didn't exactly cover the cost of using high-priced ordnance to pick up the delivery pace, it should come as no surprise that Missile Mail was a one-time-only affair.

Covers from the Barbero test are now quite valuable, and sell for $300 - $ 500.

This article contains quotes from the article "Geek Trivia: Air (and Space) Mail" by Jake Garmon of the Geek Trivia Newsletter

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