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Before Drones, We Used Airplanes for Home Delivery

Once upon a time, you could get all kinds of home goods delivered to your house in less than 30 minutes—as long as you lived near a golf course.


A few nights ago on 60 Minutes, as you've surely heard by now, Amazon CEO and newly-minted Washington Post magnate Jeff Bezos announced plans for his company to deliver packages under five pounds to customers' homes by drone. While actually getting the program running remains tricky and it doesn't seem likely for at least another five years, Bezos says the drones will be able to deliver products within 30 minutes once they're fully functional and ready to go. So, almost-instant delivery of toothpaste, DVDs, and whatever else can fit under the weight limit.

"If you go back in time 18 years," Bezos says at the beginning of the 60 Minutes segment, "I was driving the packages to the post office myself. We were very primitive."

While there are large portions of this planet that might disagree with that assessment of primitivism, what if you go back 94 years? Back to when we were delivering everyday items to people's houses by airplane.

From a 1919 Popular Science article, highlighted earlier today by Dan Lewis:

This airplane made the thirty-mile flight from store to house in twenty-five minutes, landing on a golf course near by. Since one airplane can carry all of these things, perhaps this trivial flight will develop into a regular delivery airplane service. But customers of the store that send home good by airplane will have to have large back yards or live near obliging golf courses.

This plane carried the items—“a bungalow bed, a floor lamp, a fireless cooker, three pillows, some curtains, napkins, table-cloths, towels, a taboret, a carpet-sweeper, a percolator, and a rug”—from "a large New York department store" to an unspecified, but nearby suburb. The practice didn't catch on because, well, inefficiency is one reason that comes to mind and "not everyone lives near a golf course" is another, but as the article concludes:

But using airplanes for delivery wagons is quite a new thing—though an airplane once carried a piano from London to Paris. But will it pay?

For Bezos, that final question isn't likely to be themajor issue. Instead, the problems probably lie somewhere else.