Postal Service by Projectile: Delivering Mail With Rockets

Long before email, it was predicted that traditional letters would be dropped off using the ever-advancing technology of the Space Age.
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(ILLUSTRATION: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

(ILLUSTRATION: PUBLIC DOMAIN)

The financially beleaguered U.S. Postal Service came close to stopping Saturday mail delivery earlier this year—but even if it had, most businesses would probably have hardly noticed. In these digital days, there are far more efficient ways to transmit a document than by entrusting it to a creaky physical system of planes, trucks, and demoralized letter carriers. And, it turns out, long before email trumped snail mail, corporate execs were looking for faster ways to get documents signed, sealed, and delivered.

The head of aerospace giant Lockheed Aircraft’s missile division predicted that rockets would be carrying letters by 1965.

Back in 1957, at the dawn of the Space Age, the editors of Mechanix Illustrated envisioned how ever-advancing technology would speed up correspondence: via a national network of mail-carrying rocket ships.

The article that accompanied the artwork quotes the then head of aerospace giant Lockheed Aircraft’s missile division predicting that rockets would be carrying letters by 1965.

At noon a company in New York would copy a crucial document with a “micro-photo machine,” the magazine enthused, then seal the copy in a plastic case and pop that into a pneumatic tube feeding directly to the nearest post office. From there, a helicopterlike “convertaplane” would ferry the case to the local rocket base, where it would be loaded onto the next ship bound for, say, San Francisco. Blasting through the atmosphere at 10,000mph, the document would arrive at its destination by 10 a.m. Pacific time on the same day. After another few trips by helicopter, tube, and rocket ship, the paper, duly signed in San Francisco, would arrive back in New York before close of business. How much simpler could it get?

Fortunately for everyone, except perhaps rocket manufacturers, digital technology came along instead. Today, of course, anyone can send all the documents they want to, pretty much wherever they want, whenever they want—even on Saturdays.

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