By Allen Kane, Former Director, National Postal Museum

Below the Pole

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USS Nautilus postmark handstamp

This hand-crafted handstamp was used to commemorate a submarine first. On August 3, 1958, in the midst of the Cold War, the USS Nautilus, the world’s first nuclear-powered submarine, journeyed under the North Pole.

The ship had first tried the trip in July but the ice was thicker than anticipated. Crew member John C. Yuill later recalled that the ship was forced to “grope along near the bottom, trying to find a way through into deeper water. It was tedious at times and nail-biting at others as we passed under ever-thickening ridges of ice forcing us closer and closer to the sea bottom.” Commander W.R. Anderson ordered the ship to turn around when the it had only about six feet of space between it and the ice above or sea floor. The crew would try again later.

Crew members helped cancel 1,528 envelopes with Krawczyk and Holland’s hand-made devices to commemorate the historic event. The cachet was added on the trip up and the date stamp applied while the sub was seven hundred feet below the pole.

After the Nautilus emerged northeast of Greenland on August 5, 1958, the already-canceled mail was flown with ship officers to Washington, DC for a press conference. In Washington, Postmaster General Summerfield assured Anderson that the mail would be put into the mail stream, despite having been cancelled by a ship crew, not postal workers. True to Summerfield’s word, the envelopes were placed into the mail and made their way to their destinations.