In 1959, Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield believed that he could not only find a peacetime use for guided missiles but help modernize mail delivery. Delivery by guided missile would not only be fast but it would be accurate and could have the potential to be more versatile than using typical planes. To that end he approached the U.S. Department of Defense.
The Department of Defense agreed to the plan and set up the USS Barbero Navy submarine to launch the missile. A Regulus I rocket was used for the attempt. The warhead was removed and allowed enough space for two blue and red post office boxes to fit. The boxes were loaded with 3,000 copies of a letter written by the Postmaster General. He had the letters addressed to all the prominent members of the U.S. government, postmaster generals around the world and all the crew members of the USS Barbero.
The letter was a reveal of the experiment which had not been publicly announced prior. It told of the cooperation between Secretary of Defense McElroy, the Department of Defense and the Post Office Department in “utilizing scientific advancements for peaceful purposes.” The Postmaster General stated the “great progress being made in guided missilery will be used in every practical way in the delivery of the United States mail.” The Postmaster General was truly determined to make mail delivery by mail a true path forward for the postal service.
The first launch took place while the USS Barbero was on a training mission in international waters. The missile was launched on June 8th, 1959 and traveled 100 miles to the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Mayport, Florida. The flight took a grand total of 22 minutes and arrived precisely at its destination. The Postmaster General hailed it as a success and publicly announced that the cooperation between the Defense Department and the Post Office Department would continue. He stated that before man made it to the moon, mail would be delivered across the U.S. and across the world by missile.
So if the test was a success why was it never repeated and why did the Post Office not move forward with missile mail as Postmaster General Summerfield announced? Read on to find out.