Although many previous attempts, some successful, have been made to transport mail by rocket, only one postal administration in the world has issued stamps to celebrate its country’s use of this strange method in the past.
The country – Cuba – which had been experimenting with the idea via various trials in the late 1930s.
The main driving force behind these experiments was Dr. Tomas A. Terry, at that time president of the Cuban National Philatelic Club. The first trial rocket was 75cm long (2,5 feet) and carried 70 covers. Matanzas province revenue stamps were used on the covers, overprinted with the inscription “PRIMER COHETE AEREO, 1939” ( First Air Rocket, 1939), together with a large C-1 first flight cachet.
Originally, the rocket was to have been fired across the provinces of Havana and Matanzas, but suitably safe terrain for the flight could not be found. The mail rocket launch took place on the 1st of October, 1939, on the army rifle range at Miramar. Disappointingly, the rocket exploded after travelling 12 metres (39 feet). Only 60 covers were recovered.
The second trial was held on the 3rd of October and carried 21 covers. This time the rocket travelled 500 metres (550 yards). The third test flight was blown off course by the wind into the sea with the loss of most of its mail.
Then came the big day – October 15, 1939 – the official launch of the mail rocket. The Cuban Post Office had prepared 20,000 stamps, an overprint on a 10-cent green air mail issue. The overprint reads: “EXPERIMENTO DEL COHETE POSTAL ANO DE 1939”. A crowd, including may important dignitaries and officials, had gathered for the great event. The rocket took off but unfortunately, after travelling only 11 metres (12 yards), it plummeted to earth.
The world’s first official rocket mail had come to a sad end, as did Cuba’s further involvement with Rocket Mail. Despite the failure, Cuba issued stamps in 1964 and 2009 to commemorate the event. The 2009 issue pictured here depicts the rocket builder, Antonio Funes, Tomas A. Terry and others involved in the project.
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