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"Human beings hardly ever learn from the experience of others. They learn; when they do, which isn't often, on their own, the hard way."
- Robert Heinlein

Mail-Post Letter-Ball  
  A system of sending mail quickly from town to town via steam-cannon-powered hollow spheres.  

In those days, the ancient method of conveying the post having been found much too slow for so enlightened a people, an ingenious scheme had been devices, by which the letters were put into balls and discharged by steam-cannon, from place to place; every town and district having a piece of toile melalique or woven wire, suspended in the air so as to form a kind of net to arrest the progress of the ball, and being provided with a cannon to send it off again, when the letters belonging to that neighborhood should have been extracted: whilst, to prevent accident, the mail-post letter-balls were always preceded by one of similar description, made of thin wood, with a hole in its side, which, collecting the wind as it passed along, made a kind of whistling noise, to admonish people to keep out of the way.
From The Mummy! A Tale of the Twenty-Second Century, by Jane Webb Loudon.
Published by Not known in 1828
Additional resources -

I enjoyed the juxtaposition of this extraordinary application of technology with the existence of carrier pigeons, which are also mentioned in the story.

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