I’ve overheard a lot of people who are apprehensive about the idea of getting packages delivered via drone. Escalated a bit, how would you like your mail delivered to you via rocket? Sounds ridiculous, but in 1959 the USS Barbero submarine fired a Regulus cruise missile, its nuclear warhead having been replaced by two Post Office Department mail containers, towards the Naval Auxiliary Air Station at Naval Station Mayport in Florida.
Rocket mail, true to name was an idea suggested by a German author, Heinrich von Kleist, when he suggested firing shells filled with letters using artillery batteries. In search of a faster method for delivering mail, the Post Office Department, predecessor to the United States Postal Service (“USPS”), took his idea to heart and launched the Regulus cruise missile with a pair of solid-propellant boosters on June 8, 1959. A turbojet engine sustained the long-range cruise flight after the boosters were dropped. Twenty-two minutes following the launch from Norfolk, Virginia, the missile struck its target in Mayport where the Regulus missile was opened and the mail forwarded to the post office in Jacksonville, Florida, for sorting and routing.
Instead of a 4,000-pound warhead, the payload was 3,000 pieces of mail, all of which were copies of the same letter written by the Postmaster General addressed to President of the United States Dwight Eisenhower, other government officials, the Postmasters General of all members of the Universal Postal Union, and so on.
Upon witnessing the missile's landing, Summerfield stated, "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." Summerfield proclaimed the event to be "of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world", and predicted that "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. We stand on the threshold of rocket mail."
That was not meant to be. There was another motivation behind the launch. This was only two years after the U.S. flew a B-52 around the world without stopping to refuel to prove another point about military capabilities. The Cold War arms race was in full swing and a demonstration of that level of precision with a rocket was meant to be threatening.
It was a successful test, but there were no more experiments with using missiles to deliver the post. The Navy had proved its point about the speed and accuracy of the Regulus I. Ultimately, the downfall of missile mail wasn't a matter of impossibility, but impracticality. It turns out delivering mail with airplanes is just way cheaper.