And now a page from our "Sunday Morning" Almanac: June 8th, 1959, 55 years ago today . . . a date that gave new meaning to the phrase: "The mail must go through."
For that was the day 3,000 pieces of U.S. mail were delivered not by mailman, but by MISSILE.
Already practiced in transporting mail by truck, train and plane, the Post Office decided to embrace the missile age.
Two metal containers filled with letters were placed inside a Regulus missile, which was then carried aboard the submarine USS Barbero to a point about 100 miles off the coast of Florida.
On the morning of the 8th, the unmanned Regulus was launched from the Barbero's deck.
Twenty-two minutes later, the jet-powered missile landed at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Fla., where no less a personage than Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield unloaded the identical letters, all of them signed by him and enclosed in official "Missile Mail" envelopes addressed to a Who's Who of dignitaries.
Summerfield himself was standing by when President Dwight Eisenhower received his letter the next day (delivered by mail carrier).
"Your receipt of this letter marks an historic milestone in the use of guided missiles for communication between the peoples of the Earth," Summerfield's message proudly began.
And it went on to promise: "The great progress being made in guided missilry will be utilized in every practical way in the delivery of the United States mail."
Well . . . no.
As it turned out, that first test of missile mail was also the last, its impracticality apparently only obvious to the Post Office ex post facto.
For more info:
- Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Washington, D.C.