THE ROCKET POST

May 1930. Philately was celebrating its 90th anniversary, 90 years to the month after Great Britain started the modern stamp industry by issuing its 1p black. Air mail was the latest rage. The first International Air Mail Exposition was set to be held in Paris in November. Scott Stamp and Coin Inc. had just announced its first International Air Post Album, a collector's showcase that would house every air mail stamp that had ever been issued anywhere in the world, 992 by their expert count, in a single fancy bound volume for $3.00 or loose-leaf for $10.00. Included in that number were a set of high-value air-mail stamps issued by the American government to be used on the first "Europe-Pan America Round Trip Flight" of the German dirigible Graf Zeppelin, also in that month of May. A $2.60 blue stamp would be needed on any letter from the United States to Germany and back, a six-day trip crossing the Atlantic twice. For comparison, consider that Scott also reported in that same issue of its monthly newsletter that Pan American Airways just announced that it had cut the 11-day travel time between New York and Buenos Aires to a mere seven days, at a rate of 55¢ per half-ounce.

What if progress could cut those times? Not eleven days or seven days or even three days. What about .... 30 minutes? Impossible? Not for a rocket.

As far as I know, this is the very first article to appear in English about the possibilities of rocket mail. It translated an article by Postcouncilor Kunat that had appeared in Die Post Marke, the publication of the Austrian Philatelist Association, sometime in the fall of 1929. The dating is narrowed by the use of photographs of rockets from Fritz Lang's German blockbuster Frau in Mund (The Woman in the Moon), released on October 29, 1929. That movie was far and away the closest approximation of real space travel that anyone in 1929 could portray. The transplanted Transylvanian Hermann Oberth, author of Ways to Space Navigation, provided technical advice. And more. Lang widely publicized the film by announcing that Oberth would launch a real rocket to accompany the premiere. The future was here.

 

Oberth in reality tried hard but had neither the time, budget, nor technical knowledge to build anything. Kunat, working to deadline, no doubt simply assumed that Oberth would come through. And more. Oberth had announced his follow-up would be a mailrocket flying from Berlin to New York in half an hour.

Oberth had the requirements worked out. The rocket would be 10m (32.8 ft) long and 10 cm (4 in) in diameter. The 60 kg (132 lb) rocket could carry 30 kg (66 lb) in mail. That meant 1300 letters weighing 20 g (0.7 oz) each, and that "the carrying of special delivery mail and telegrams by rockets will be a very profitable business for the postoffice."

Nor should the public worry about the danger from rockets. They would float gently to earth via parachute. "As a rocket will reach its point of destination with precision of seconds, the descent of a rocket can be easily watched."

The last paragraph is poignant, given what we know now:

This is so far only a theory, which, however, when proven correct by practice, will exercise an immense influence over the entire world.

EK

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