Arago: Exhibits

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Floating Mailbox

A Floating Mailbox

This tin can mailbox was soldered shut and painted with the message "Please send this Letterbox to the Post Office Honolulu." The mailbox is approximately the size of a five-pound bag of sugar. The top of the can, which was roughly cut to release the contents, still rests inside and bears the message "Please open here!"

No specific information was provided with this object when it was transferred from the Post Office Department to the Smithsonian Institution. There is, however, a well-recorded history of a mail service in Niuafo'oua, an island between Samoa and Fiji in the South Pacific, that utilized tin can mailboxes.

Pre-1900 mail delivery to the island had been attempted by throwing or rocket-propelling sealed tins of mail from passing ships, with predictable unpredictable results. Around 1921 local trader Charles Stuart Ramsay began delivering mail to ships using swimmers who held the mail aloft on sticks. This method was upgraded to delivering and retrieving mail from ships using canoes and sealed fifty-pound biscuit tins. Mail issued from or specially cancelled on the island was taken by ship, as in the case of this object, to the U.S. post office in Honolulu, Hawaii, for processing.