Tag Archives: rocket mail

NEW EXHIBITION Innovation in the air: The 80th anniversary of inland airmail

20 August 2014 marks the 80th anniversary of UK inland airmail delivery. To mark this fascinating story we are hosting a new display in the BPMA Foyer and Search Room from 20 August to 20 October.

Alongside the display will be the chance to look through facsimile examples of newspaper reports from 1934; visitors can read first-hand accounts of the storm chaos that overshadowed the inaugural flight on 20 August. Evening newspaper headlines were quick to tell the public of the bumpy start to the service. Contemporary accounts from the time scream aloud ‘Britain’s Great Air-Mail Muddle’ and tell of the ‘Mail Planes In Gale Ordeal… Chairman of New Line ‘Bumped’ Through Roof’.

Airmail logo.

Airmail logo.

Alongside a discussion of the merits and limitations of the new airmail service, the display will also look at other unusual methods to deliver the post that were trialled around this time- namely the ultra-imaginative but ultimately unsuccessful rocket mail, which saw mail actually delivered in specially designed rockets.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,  The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Newspaper report and picture of Zucker’s rocket exploding on Scarp,
The Daily Telegraph, 1 August 1934.

Partly burnt items of mail, singed during the rocket explosions, can still be seen in our collection today.

‘How is the Post Office to make itself heard, to capture the interest and attention of the public, upon which there are already so many claims?’ – Sir Stephen Tallents, 1934

With the growing volume of letters sent by air came the idea of having special letter boxes for their collection. In 1930 the Post Office began painting pillar boxes to be used for airmail collections an ‘Air Force’ blue colour. The eye catching blue boxes promoted and advertised the new airmail service now available to the public. On display for the duration of the BPMA display will be a blue ‘Air Mail’ pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

Our airmail pillar box.

By 1934, the Post Office had become very conscious of design. A Public Relations department had been created under Sir Stephen Tallents. Theyre Lee- Elliott was commissioned to redesign labels, leaflets and posters especially for the new airmail service. Based upon stylised wings the new label was introduced on 25 July 1934. Just prior to that, on 17 May 1934, a new flag was authorised for aircraft carrying the Royal Mail.

Available alongside the display, from our Post & Go machine, will be a special commemorative Post & Go stamp, which will include a pictorial element for the first time. The underprint will incorporate the airmail logo designed by Theyre Lee-Elliott in 1934 for use on Inland Airmail posters, flyers and labels, with the text “Inland Airmail 1934”.

Check out our airmail shop range for first day covers, mugs, postcards and much more!

We will also be launching a Google Cultural Institute online exhibition on Wednesday exploring the stories of innovation in delivering the post. ‘Post Haste’ will look at the unusual and imaginative ways that have been used to transport the mail from cats to rockets and many more!

– Dominique Gardner, Exhibitions Officer

Rockets, pigeons and helicopters

by Jenny Karlsson, PR & Communications Officer 

You are probably aware that planes are a common mode of transport for the Post Office, but did you know that rockets, helicopters and pigeons have also been used to transport mail?

Rocket mail

Rocket mail is the delivery of mail by rocket or missile. The rocket would land by deploying an internal parachute upon arrival. It has been attempted by various organisations in many different countries, with varying levels of success. Due to its cost and failures it has never become seen as a feasible way of transporting mail.

German Gerhard Zucker experimented in the 1930s with powder rockets similar to fireworks. After moving to the United Kingdom, Zucker attempted to convince the General Post Office that postal delivery by rocket was viable, and Zucker’s first attempt in Britain took place 6 June 1934 on the Sussex Downs. In July the same year he made two further attempts on Scarp, an island in the Outer Hebrides, but both of his rockets exploded. His final attempt took place on the Isle of Wight, but the rocket went off course and embedded itself in the Pennington Marshes, Hampshire.

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934

Sketch diagram of rocket, 1934

Helicopters

Trials to use helicopters to deliver mail first took place from 7-12 May 1934. They were organised by John S Davis, an Aerophilatelist, and carried out in conjunction with a philatelic festival.

Experiments took place between 1948 and 1950 but did not reach a satisfactory level of regularity (especially at night when most flights would need to occur) and were deemed not to be cost effective.

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

Helicopter mail trials in Norfolk, 1949

After this, commercial flights were occasionally used to transport mail.

Pigeon post

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Clear and correct circulation details save time: an internal GPO poster promoting clear and correct detailing on telegrams. Circa 1950.

Throughout history, pigeons have also been used as a means of getting messages between parties. Pigeon post offered a fast and reliable service and became a vital means of communication during the First World War; by the end of the war there were 22,000 Pigeons in service.

BPMA Open Day

The BPMA holds a large number of records relating to all of these subjects, such as posters, artwork, reports, press cuttings, maps, papers and photographs. You have a unique opportunity to see these at our Archive Open Day on 12 September on the theme ‘Take Flight!’ The Archive Open Day is a drop-in event, offering behind-the-scenes tours, and is part of the Archive Awareness Campaign 2009.

‘Take Flight!’ – The British Postal Museum & Archive Open Day
Saturday 12 September 10.00am – 5.00pm
The British Postal Museum & Archive, Freeling House, Phoenix Place, London WC1X 0DL
Free
Phone: 020 7239 2570
Email: info@postalheritage.org.uk
Website: http://postalheritage.org.uk/events_archive/archive-open-day