Newfangled ‘electronic’ mail, 1976

When I’m looking for something on microfilm of old papers, I find a lot of other interesting stories and ads – sometime much more interesting than what I was searching for in the first place.

Here’s one such item. from the Sunday, June 20, 1976, issue of the News-Tribune. It has nothing to do with Duluth specifically, but I found it amusing to see how much times and technology have changed:

Electronic mail eyed

Associated Press

WASHINGTON – The Postal Service is taking the first steps toward establishing an electronic mail system that promises overnight delivery of letters at a price no higher than current rates.

The mail agency has signed a $2.2 million contract with the RCA Corp. to study what alternatives are available to the Postal Service in the area of computerized message systems.

“We know it is technologically feasible to have a national electronic message service. We could do it today,” said Ralph Marcotte, Postal Service project manager for the RCA contract.

“The question we want answered now is whether there is a national market for it,” he said. “The chances are very good that the study will come up with at least one alternative that is economically feasible and that would be accepted by the public.”

Technology exists to use leased lines, facsimile devices, communications satellites and other devices to send messages electronically.

One possible application is for the Postal Service to establish “electronic mail kiosks” at such places as shopping centers. A person could enter a message written in block letters into a machine equipped with optical character readers that could convert the message into digital form.

The message then could be transmitted to a Postal Service receiving unit near the addressee. A computer printout of the message could be delivered with the next day’s mail.

Another possibility is for a business to link its own computer electronically with that of the nearest Postal Service message station. “His computer would talk to our computer and then ours would send the message electronically, Marcotte said.

The message could be received by computer by the addressee or a printout could be delivered conventionally.

“The cost of sending a onepage business document would be as low as a nickel per page, not including any delivery costs,” he said.

Marcotte said the chances appear good for delivering an electronic letter for the same or less than the current 13-cent price of a first-class letter.

One potential problem with electronic mail is that private companies now entering the field of electronic message systems may complain about competition from the government.

Marcotte said systems run by private enterprise ”would tend to go along routes of high profitability and high usage” while the Postal Service would try to serve all areas of the country.

Officials point out that the Postal Service already has a nationwide delivery network, an asset that companies do not have.

An electronic system would enable the Postal Service to save considerable mail handling. The Postal Service now employs about 700,000 workers, nearly 1 per cent of the American labor force, in moving the mail.

Postal officials say another possible advantage to the agency would be that electronic mail could recover business that the Postal Service has been losing in recent years. Use of the mail has been declining, partly because of rising mail rates and partly because of the increasing use of privately owned electronic communications at the expense of the U.S. mail.

The Postal Service could begin offering an electronic mail service ”as soon as three years from now if everything goes right,” Marcotte said.

”We have the obvious option of growing in steps as demand for the service grows. We could start with leased lines and then later go to satellites, for example,” he said.

Marcotte said a possible ”second generation” is for people to buy a ”black box” to receive mail electronically in his own home. This is not feasible yet, he said.

Marcotte said electronic mail ”would be a supplement to the present first-class mail and eventually might be a substitute.” He concedes that this ”would be a rather radical departure from the present postal system. It certainly would change our image.”

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68th anniversary of D-Day

American troops and supply vehicles splash ashore on the French coast during the D-Day invasion, in the wake of long lines of soldiers already moving inland (visible in the distance) on June 6, 1944. (Associated Press / News Tribune files)

Today, June 6, 2012, is the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion by Allied troops on the coast of Normandy, France, during World War II. Here’s an image of that day’s News-Tribune front page; click on the photo for a larger view:

Here are some more AP photos of D-Day, from the News Tribune files:

In this June 5, 1944 file photo, Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower gives the order of the day – “full victory – nothing else” – to paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division at the Royal Air Force Base in Greenham Common, England, three hours before the men boarded their planes to participate in the first assault wave of the D-Day invasion of Europe. (Associated Press / News tribune files)

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In this June 6, 1944, file photo released by the U.S. Army, U.S. paratroopers fix their static lines before a jump before dawn over Normandy on D- Day. (AP Photo/Army Signal Corps/News Tribune files)

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U.S. troops wade ashore to a Normandy beach from a landing craft on D-Day, June 6, 1944. (Associated Press / News Tribune files)

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American soldiers landing on D-Day left this memorial to a fallen comrade on the Normandy coast on June 6, 1944. (Associated Press / News Tribune files)

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For much more historical information about D-Day, check out this website created by the U.S. Army.

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The wreck of the Thomas Wilson

At 10:40 on a clear, calm Saturday morning almost exactly 110 years ago, the inbound freighter George G. Hadley collided with the outbound whaleback steamer Thomas Wilson just off the Duluth Ship Canal in what the News Tribune reported was “one of the most spectacular and disastrous marine catastrophes” of the time.

The Wilson sank in minutes on June 7, 1902, with the loss of nine of its 21 crew. It still lies beneath the waves of Lake Superior within site of Canal Park and the Lake Superior Maritime Visitor Center, where an exhibit on the wreck will be formally opened at 1 p.m. Monday.

The exhibit has been open for a while now. Center director Thom Holden said the it features some items that have been in the center’s collection for several decades, and some new acquisitions made in recent years from divers who recovered them from the wreck.

Here’s an account of the collision written by the News Tribune’s Chuck Frederick in May 1996, when the wreck site was named one of Minnesota’s most endangered historic sites because of damage caused by ships’ anchors:

On a glorious June day in 1902, the whaleback steamer Thomas Wilson sailed quietly across glass-still water through the Duluth entry and into Lake Superior.

Less than a mile out, the wooden freighter George Hadley was changing course. The captain had decided not to enter the harbor in Duluth. He steamed the ship instead toward the Superior entry — and into the path of the Wilson.

Neither boat was able to yield. The nose of the 287-foot Hadley slammed into the broadside of the Wilson. She went down fast. Water poured into cargo holds that had been left unsecured. The captain figured he could save time by bolting down the hatch covers during the trip across the calm lake.

Within minutes, the Wilson’s mast was all that was left poking through the still water about a half-mile from the Duluth entry. The Hadley was able to beach itself along Minnesota Point where it could later be salvaged and repaired.

Nine crew members went down with the Wilson, a ship that is now part of Northland shipping lore. She was built in 1892 in Superior at the American Steel Barge Co., an ancestor to today’s Fraser Shipyards. The company was owned by Alexander McDougall, who designed the whaleback steamers, including the SS Meteor, a sister ship to the Wilson that now is open for tours on Superior’s Barker’s Island. The Wilson’s anchors are displayed on the lawn in front of the Marine Museum in Duluth’s Canal Park.

The wreck is popular among divers, who wait for northeasterly winds to push in clear water. But it’s not the ship it used to be, they say. “It has been utterly destroyed” by the anchors dropped by Great Lakes vessels, said Elmer Engman, a Proctor diver who owns Inner Space Scuba Equipment along Miller Trunk Highway.

“It looks like a ship that’s been in a war,” said Scott Anfinson of the State Historic Preservation Office in St. Paul. “It looks like someone’s been dropping bombs on it. Instead of colliding with one ship, it looks like it was hit by five or six boats all at once.”

The Wilson’s deck has been destroyed by the anchors, but the forward cabins and bow structure are still intact.

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Here are links to the front page and a jump page of the News Tribune from June 8, 1902, the day after the wreck. You can read the full account of the sinking of the Wilson, and also look at what else was making news 110 years ago:

Thomas Wilson wreck front page

Thomas Wilson wreck jump page

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June 7 is the anniversary of another well-known Lake Superior wreck – the America, which sank at Isle Royale on June 7, 1928. The history website Zenith City Online has a post about the America here.

The bow of the America can still be seen just beneath the surface – close enough to touch with an oar from a boat when I visited there in the 1990s.