Notes from the Past

Rocket Mail

Although rockets were never a practical means of transporting mail, a number of experimental rockets have carried mail.  Most such flights were prompted by the desire to create philatelic covers.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard, the father of US rocketry, was working on a mail-carrying rocket as early as the World War I period, but mail was not carried by rocket in the US until 1935.  Even then, the flights were more in the nature of publicity stunts.

Mail-carrying rockets were first fired in 1931 in Austria, when Friedrich Schmiedl launched a rocket carrying 102 covers that bore Austrian postage stamps but which were cancelled privately.  A number of similar flights took place in the following two years.

In the mid-1930s, Gerhard Zucher (Zucker, according to some sources) fired rockets in England, Italy, Switzerland, and the Netherlands.  He even tried to fire a mail-carrying rocket from the European coast to England, according to Cabeen (Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting), but it fell short.  What the British authorities' attitude was, or even whether they were aware of the attempt was not recorded.  Certainly the flight, had it succeeded, would have posed a very considerable danger to any unfortunate Briton who may have been occupying the point of impact.  Nevertheless, it was a remarkable example of events casting their shadows.

In India, Dr. Stephen Smith was very active in rocketry during the years between the two world wars.  He made several mail-carrying firings and also used rockets to carry supplies to flood isolated areas.

After a while, it became obvious that rockets were not ideal as a means of transporting mail, since it was never certain exactly where the mail would be delivered!  And so the military took over and put the knowledge of rocketry to good (or bad) use during WWII.  The most spectacular example was the German attempt to destroy London with their giant V2 rockets.

Since the war, rocket mail has been confined to the philatelically contrived stunt, and no serious rocket mail system has emerged.

You might want to label as "rocket mail" the Apollo 11 carriage of the US 1969 Moon Landing stamp to the surface of the moon, and the canceling there of a souvenir cover, but even this was a stunt rather than a a serious mail-carrying experiment.

A number of stamp-like labels have been issued to frank private rocket "mail," including two for the flight at Greenwood Lake, N.Y., in 1936.

In July, 1936, mail carrying rockets were fired between the US and Mexico.  Two triangular labels were issued by the Loyal Service Post #37 of the American Legion, which conducted the flights.  Sanabria notes similar labels have been issued for various rocket flights.

Attempts to send mail ashore by rocket from ships off Niuafo'ou Island (noted for Tin Can Mail) between 1902 and 1915 are reported by Clyde Carriker, but most was lost in the sea or fell in the dense jungle ashore. 

- Kenneth A. Wood
This is Philately - Volume Three Q-Z
Van Dahl Publications 1982
Posted June 12, 2000

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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