WASHINGTON – Shortly before noon on June 8, 1959, the U.S Navy successfully launched a cruise missile to deliver mail.
Approximately 22 minutes later, the “missile mail” from the submarine USS Barbero, landed at Naval Air Auxiliary Station in Mayport, Florida.
The warhead on the Regulus I missile was replaced by two Post Office Department (the predecessor to the U.S. Postal Service) boxes containing 3,000 pieces of mail addressed to President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, and heads of state from across the world.
Searching for a faster air mail delivery method, the Post Office Department teamed up with the U.S. Navy in search for a solution. There had been prior attempts in the 1930s to deliver mail via rockets, but due to both the rudimentary technology and the onset of war the project was abandoned.
The June 8 test was so successful that Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield said, “This peacetime employment of a guided missile for the important and practical purpose of carrying mail, is the first known official use of missiles by any Post Office Department of any nation,” according to the Smithsonian’s National Post Museum.
“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.”
Unfortunately, Postmaster General Summerfield’s enthusiasm was not shared by the Department of Defense. While it did demonstrate the effectiveness and accuracy of U.S.-made missiles, it would never be a cost-effective delivery method and after numerous failures, proved too risky.