The idea and concept of rocket mail is to expedite the delivery of mail by means of rocket or missile. Traditional proposals have the rocket landing with the assistance of the deployment of an internal parachute upon arrival.
Although it has yet to be successfully implemented, rocket mail has been attempted by various organizations in many different countries, with varying levels of success. It has never become widely seen as being a viable option for delivering mail, due to the cost of the schemes and numerous failures. The collection of philatelic material, otherwise known as stamps, used for and depicting rocket mail are available and quite valuable for those in the stamp and mail community.
Pioneers Of Rocket Mail
German author Heinrich von Kleist was the first to suggest using rockets to deliver mail. While he was the editor of the Berliner Abendblätter, he wrote an article dated October 10th 1810 which proposed using fixed artillery batteries to fire shells filled with letters to predetermined landing locations. He would go on to calculate that if a network of batteries were built, they could transmit a letter from Berlin to Breslau, a distance of 180 miles, in half a day time.
Late in the 19th century, Congreve rockets were used to deliver mail in Tonga, but the missiles were unreliable. Austro-Hungarian-born German physicist and engineer Hermann Oberth suggested using rockets for mail in a 1927 letter.
Austrian rocket designer Friedrich Schmiedl launched the first rocket mail with 102 pieces of mail between the Austrian towns of Schöckl and St. Radegund. Schmiedl would go on to perform several other launches in 1932, which where subsidized by philatelists.
German businessman and rocket scientists Gerhard Zucker experimented in the 1930s with powder rockets similar to fireworks. For several years, he travelled throughout Germany displaying his rocket and claiming that it could be used to deliver mail. After being provided with an opportunity to convince the UK of its viability, Zucker’s tests resulted with the rockets exploding.
Stephen Smith, a Secretary of the Indian Airmail Society, combined his work with his interest in rocketry. After several tests, he was able to make some notable achievements, which include the first successful rocket mail sent over a river and the first rocket to carry a parcel. In 1992 the Indian government issued a stamp to celebrate the centenary of Smith’s birth, calling him “the originator of rocket mail in India”.
US Postal Service Attempt At Rocket Mail
In 1959, when the predecessor to the US Postal Service was looking for faster mail transportation, they looked towards a US Navy submarine to assist with the testing rocket mail. Using the USS Barbero, a regulus cruise missile was fired on June 8th, 1959 with a target of the Naval Station Mayport, Florida. For this test, the nuclear warhead was replaced by two Post Office Department mail containers.
In the 2 mail containers there were 3000 pieces of mail, mostly consisted entirely of commemorative postal covers addressed to important politicians and government officiants all which were addressed by United States Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield. The postage on these 3000 pieces of mail was four cents domestic and eight cents international was cancelled “USS Barbero Jun 8 9.30am 1959” before the submarine fired the missile at sea. After firing the missile with the mail, the Regulus missile was opened and the mail forwarded to the post office in Jacksonville, Florida, for sorting and routing.
A more recent rocket mail action attempt was when XCOR Aerospace flew its EZ-Rocket on December 3rd 2005 from Mojave, California to California City, California. The flight lasted about 9 minutes, which became the first time that a manned, rocket-powered aircraft was used to carry U.S. Mail.