The rise and fall of rocket mail

As you read this, countless cards, letters and packages are en route to delivery destinations across the globe. We rarely think about the logistics involved in international mail crossing land and sea, country borders and continents, because we don’t have to. We simply take our item to the nearest postal service branch, pay an acceptable conveyance fee, and within a week or sooner, that item can end up on the other side of the world. But some two hundred years ago, eccentric minds were devising ways of cutting international delivery times to hours or even minutes. Their method? Rockets.

Aside from the romantic notion of rolling notes around arrows for airborne exchanges at distance, German author and poet Heinrich von Kleist is widely credited as being the first champion of using projectiles to carry mail. Telegraphy systems were in their infancy in the early 1800s, and the technology was best suited for short notes, not long reports or letters — and certainly not packages. In his position as editor of the Berliner Abendblätter(the Berlin Evening News), von Kleist wrote an article in October 1810 that suggested artillery shells could be filled with letters and trained at areas of soft ground many miles away.

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