Domestic U.S. Air Mail was formally established as a class of service by the United States Post Office on 15 May 1918, when bags of mail were flown between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York. In 1959, the U.S. Navy took postal delivery to the next level by packing a Regulus I cruise missile with mail aboard the submarine USS Barbero, docked at Norfolk, Virginia, and launching it to the naval air station in Mayport, Florida. The missile, containing 3,000 letters symbolically addressed to President Dwight D. Eisenhower and other government officials, made the 100-mile (161 km) trip in 22 minutes. Although "rocket mail" never caught on as a practical method of postal delivery, the experiment succeeded as a not-so-subtle way to show off the U.S. military’s state-of-the-art missile guidance system during the Cold War.
The first and only missile mail:
- The storage space used for the mail was originally designed to hold the missile’s nuclear warhead. The Regulus was capable of sending mass destruction to a target 600 miles (966 km) away.
- U.S. Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield was ecstatic, saying, “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.” It was, however, the only time a missile has carried mail in the United States.
- Some of the Regulus I letters have found their way into private collections in the years since, and have sold for $100 USD or more.