Jetpack mailmen: yet another way the future let us down

Illustration for article titled Jetpack mailmen: yet another way the future let us down

I had to buy stamps recently. It was the worst.

Nothing pushes me into full curmudgeon hack mode quite like standing in line at the post office. We're talking Andy Rooney/ Dave Barry lovechild super-curmudgeon. And don't even get me started on FedEx. Standing in line is so 20th century.


That being said, there's something charming about our antiquated postal service. People literally take letters and packages from one physical place and deliver them to another place. It's pretty darn cute.

In 1960 the future of electronic mail was still envisioned as an analog experiment. Arthur Radebaugh's Closer Than We Think ran a panel on December 25, 1960 in which physical letters would be opened, scanned, beamed to space, returned to earth and reproduced where they would then be delivered to their final destination in the form of a small capsule. It was difficult for people to imagine a world without the postal service delivering some form of physical media, dead tree or otherwise.

The October 4, 1958 edition of Radebaugh's syndicated strip imagined jetpack mailmen of the future leaping from door to door in Suburbatopia, U.S.A. The strip explains that because of its super-secret government technology they can't go into detail on how such a rocket pack might work, but rest assured, it'll make every mail carrier in town a regular Buck Rogers.

Uncle Sam's mailmen can look forward to going faster, getting farther, and doing so with less effort than ever before. All it will take will be a device like the recently prefected "rocket assists" which were originally developed to help infantrymen leap like grasshoppers.

Just how such equipment works is still a military secret. The designer, Reaction Motors, Inc., is not permitted to say how large the device is, or how long it fires, or what kind of fuel it uses. But best guess is that the rocket fires intermittently, so that the wearer can bound from spot to spot as he wishes, with no more energy then it takes to walk. Also the mechanism is believed to be of small size, simply constructed and low-priced. What a boon for mailmen and others whose work takes them from door to door!

Many thanks to Tom Z. for the color version of this amazing panel from Closer Than We Think!

The Paleofuture Blog was started by Matt Novak in January of 2007. Matt has since become an accidental expert on past visions of the future, and has amassed an enormous library of media related to the study of retro-futurism. Matt can be reached at or followed on Twitter.



Chip Overclock®

If you think about it in a certain way, this actually happened, although as usual not exactly in the way we expected.

Federal Express is the rocket mailman, delivering parcels, packages, and letters anywhere in the world, and all but the last few miles by air. I've rush ordered computer parts from and gotten them the next day. It seems impossible, but there it is. I've ordered used books through, not realizing at the time that the bookseller was in England, and was amazed when they showed up on my doorstep in just a few days, apparently having come from a warehouse in Germany via DHL. When we moved from Ohio, the UPS man stopped at our house while the moving folks were loading the van, just to thank us for our business. FedEx operates the highest bandwidth (albeit high latency) data network in the world: it can load a Boeing 747 cargo plane with hundreds of thousands of cartridge tapes each holding five terabytes of data, and move it across the world over night.

Truly, we really do live in the future.