Matthew Perry - the Commodore, not the Friend, caused a bit of a ruckus when he visited Japan in 1853. Prior to that, Japan's seclusion laws kept them pretty much sealed off from the rest of the world. Perry had instructions from President Millard Fillmore, though, and he wasn't about to be scared off by some samurai.
His demand was fairly simple: he wanted to drop off a letter from Fillmore requesting that Americans be allowed to trade in Japan and that the Japanese help rescue and return American sailors in case of shipwreck. However, this was asking too much of the samurai officials at the Uraga harbor, who instructed Perry to continue on to Nagasaki. But Perry’s instructions were clear. When the officials continued to refuse to let him deliver his letter, he demonstrated the superiority of modern American weaponry by destroying a few buildings with new, super-accurate Paixhans guns that fired exploding shells. The samurai sensibly relented and agreed to allow Perry to come ashore to deliver the letter, for one of history’s more dramatic mail drops.
Looking for more fabulous content like this? You’re in luck - The Mental Floss History of the United States hits bookshelves near you on October 5th! If you pre-order, you’ll get three free issues of mental_floss magazine. Get all of the details over here.