Space Cover #215: USS Barbero missile mail
From the days of the Pony Express forward the Post Office Department (and later the USPS) has been interested in ways to move mail faster. In 1959 Postmaster General Summerfield sought and secured the cooperation of the Department of Defense to place a quantity of mail in an operational naval missile. A total of 3,000 envelopes were divided into two metal canisters painted to resemble mail boxes. Cachets are known in black or blue.
Using the personal stationary of the Postmaster General artist Frank J. Crawford, Jr. designed artwork showing a Regulus I guided missile in flight. Proof envelopes available to members of the press have no date or time, no address, and no receiver mark on the back. It is believed about 300 were produced.
Envelopes carried on rockets were nothing new. European experimenters like Schmiedl and Zucker beginning in 1928 used the sale of philatelic products to help fund their rocket research. Here one of several thousand envelopes and postcards flown in 1936 by Willy Ley in New Jersey is shown.
The Postmaster General was delighted with the Barbero flight. The 21 minute flight reached supersonic speeds and landed safely at NAS Mayport, Florida where it received a Jacksonville postmark and entered the mail stream. Summerfield was quoted, “I believe we will see missile mail developed to a significant degree before man has reached the moon.” The Post Office reported that “The use of compartments built into missiles to carry considerable shipments of mail appears highly practical.” It went on to say, “Guided missiles may ultimately provide a solution to problems of swifter mail delivery for international mails, for isolated area where other transportation is infrequent, as well as supplementary high priority services to big population centers.”
While the Barbero was the first official missile mail it was not the first carried by the Navy. On May 1st 1959 a total of 150 envelopes were postmarked at Point Mugu after a subsonic ride on a Regulus I missile. Since it was not in cooperation with the Post Office the mail is considered unofficial. Navy movement of envelopes goes even further back. On Sept 16, 1958 a total of 55 covers were cancelled at Port Hueneme after riding a upgraded Regulus II. When the landing gear failed to deploy the missile crashed and burned but somehow the envelopes survived unscathed.
As part of a series of 50th anniversary envelopes created by graphic artist Jim Roth those that find the FLOWN covers too rich for their stamp budget should find one of these. Handsomely illustrated both front and back Jim brings the artistic flair he shares as Editor of The Astrophile and owner of the space event cover service called Mission 57.