People have forever been looking at ways of speeding things up and since the 1930s there had been various attempts at making postal services quicker. In1934 for example a rocket was launched over a sixteen thousand metre flight path between two Hebridean islands in Scotland with a fuselage packed with mail. Unfortunately the rocket exploded and destroyed most of its cargo. Then in 1959 the United States Navy submarine USS Barbero assisted the United States Post Office Department in its search for faster, more efficient forms of mail transportation with the first and only successful delivery of ‘Missile Mail’.
Shortly before noon on 8th June, the Barbero fired a Regulus cruise missile with its nuclear warhead having earlier been replaced by two official Post Office Department mail containers from the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Florida and twenty-two minutes later, the missile struck its target at Jacksonville.
It is difficult to imagine why any organisation would waste thousands of dollars on such a pointless exercise because it must have been obvious even to a five year old that this was never going to be a commercially viable proposition. Even so the Postmaster General of the United States declared it a great success and instantly 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.“
This was probably one of the most inaccurate predictions ever made by a Government official and nothing more was ever heard of’ ‘Missile Mail’. Bill Bryson in “The life and times of the Thunderbolt Kid” sums up exactly why:
“Perhaps it occurred to someone that incoming rockets might have an unfortunate tendency to miss their targets and crash through the roofs of factories or hospitals, or that they might blow up in flight, or take out passing aircraft, or that every launch would cost tens of thousands of dollars to deliver a payload worth a maximum of $120 at prevailing postal rates”
Another bad call was made by Thomas John Watson, Sr. who was president of International Business Machines (IBM) and was responsible for the company’s growth into an international force from 1914 to 1956. For a man who achieved all this it is perhaps surprising that he made one of the least ever accurate predictions when he said in 1943, “I think there is a world market for maybe five computers”