Rocket Mail

You could have knocked me over with a feather when I was given the following information:

In 1931…The first mail delivered by rocket in the United States is claimed by three Struthers, Ohio, high school students led by philatelist, John Kiktavi. He sends mail from Struthers to Poland, Ohio.

It was Nov. 24, 2006 when I received the following e-mail from Marian Kutlesa, president of the Struthers Historical Society:

Dear Ted, Two days ago the Youngstown Public Library called to ask about the rocket sent between Struthers and Poland in the 1930s. I have gone down to our museum and through old Journals (a newspaper published in Struthers) with no success…Where did they send it off and good gracious where did it land?...Any help you could be in this matter would be appreciated. Thank you, Marian

This is what was found when I entered the name of John Kiktavi into my computer….“July 1, 1931, the first mail rocket flight in the U.S. was organized by John Kiktavi, an avid stamp collector who writes for the magazine Southern Philatelist. He prints special envelopes, encloses them in the rocket, and then launches them from Struthers to Poland, Ohio. Kiktavi also prints his own stamps with the words “Miniature Airways.” This is against postal regulations, and the local postal inspector pays Kiktavi a visit, ending his experiments.”

Mr. Paul McCutcheon, the Librarian at the National Postal Museum in Washington DC was contacted for his input. He wrote to Marian Kutlesa:

“I have found a number of references to this rocket mail flight, but given the fact that it wasn’t sanctioned by the Post Office Dept., the event wasn’t given extensive coverage. According to a book written by Dr. Max Kronstein, it was on April 30, 1932, that a group of young men prepared a small frame to which about 30 envelopes were attached with imprints stating ‘First Experimental Rocket Flight – Struthers – Poland, Ohio.’

At the line between Struthers and Poland, this frame was ‘started’ by attaching July 4
th fireworks rockets. After it fell down or crashed, the covers were presented at the Poland post office with an official looking letter supposedly authorizing the matter and signed by “P.M.” (meaning “Promotional Manager”). The matter was taken to court by the authorities and the “P.M.” was freed only because of his youth – being 16 years old. Those who had paid for these issues were reimbursed and the remaining stamps and plates were seized and destroyed.”

Later Marian writes, “Hello Ted, Harold Milligan, former Mayor of Struthers and now 97, remembers a John Kiktavi printed bug slips in his garage, dodged the draft, and went to prison, but has no memory of the rocket event.”

Marian and I had to find out more about this Struthers philatelist who instigated the first rocket mail in the U.S. and his three high school helpers. So far, our investigation has turned up very little information

I wrote to Marian on Dec. 4, 2006: “Looking through the 1930 Struthers City Directory, I find John Kiktavi Sr. listed as a printer and operating the “Modern Printing Co.” in a building in the rear of his property at 93 Morrison St. He had a son named John Jr. The 1939-40 Directory lists John Jr. as a printer living in Youngstown. From there on the trail grows cold. The U.S. Census Records for 1930 lists three (3) John Kiktavi for Mahoning Co. Their birth dates were 1892, 1912, 1915. It stands to reason that John Sr. was born in 1892 and his son, John Jr. in 1915. This would make John Jr. a high school student in 1931 and possibly one of the three participants in the rocket launch.”

The Christmas Season ended our research in 2006; never to begin again. Marian became involved with the YSU archeology diggings directed by Dr. White, while I became wrapped up in Town One Streetscapes and Village Council business. It would be nice to know more of the details of this first rocket mail and those people involved. One final piece of information was the obituary of one John Kiktavi who was killed in action in North Africa at the age of 26. It is quite possible this was John Jr.