One of a kind

This illustration of the Volucere appeared in an 1892 edition of New York World. Image: The Washington Post

It’s a bird, it’s a plane … it’s an aerial electric mail car?

More than 100 years ago, an inventor named Byron Osborn imagined a device that might have revolutionized mail transportation, if it had ever been built.

The Washington Post recently recalled the Volucere, Osborn’s imagined aerial mail vehicle that was described in newspapers in 1892.

The Volucere was ahead of its time.

The device, which was designed to operate without a pilot, was equipped with paddles, a propeller and flapping wings.

Osborn claimed that the Volucere could transport mail between cities by traveling along miles-long twin cables, and even drew a “U.S. Mail” flag on the vehicle, which he hoped would interest the Post Office Department.

Marketing products to the Post Office Department through newspapers was common, according to National Postal Museum Historian Nancy Pope.

“That’s who you wanted to sell to, because they’d buy lots of whatever you had. But you had to have something they wanted,” Pope said.

Despite Osborn’s claim that the Volucere could transport 100 pounds of mail, he couldn’t sell his invention.

News of the device soon disappeared from newspapers and the Post Office Department moved forward with testing underground pneumatic mail delivery tube in 1893.