Saturday, October 20, 2018

You've Got Mail---Again

A few months ago, I wrote about how Rebecca Scholfield managed--without postal service in her area--to get a letter delivered to her sister who lived in Newton Township, Muskingum County. Rebecca sent her letter from her rural home in Clark County, Illinois in 1828. It would 68 years from that date before our rural ancestors enjoyed regular pick up and delivery of mail via the U.S. Postal Service, a service our town and city ancestors had enjoyed for decades.

A rural family in Westminster, Maryland gets mail.
Photo courtesy of the National Postal Museum.
On October 1, 1896, U.S. postal history was made, when an experiment, Rural Free Delivery (RFD), began in West Virginia. The service relied on custom-built horse-drawn wagons, which had first been tested in New York City and Washington, D.C. What made the wagons unique was that they were equipped to be, literally, rolling post offices. Each wagon carried three postal workers, one to drive and two to pickup, postmark, sort, and deliver the mail.

RFD expanded rapidly, and by 1902 was a permanent and much-valued service in rural America. The down-side of  RFD's success was the closing of small, fourth-class post offices. Over 18,000 small post offices closed between 1902 and 1912. But the mail, thanks to RFD wagons (and then trucks), went through.

RFD was a service that could cover long distances, and deliver those large packages from Sears and Roebuck to remote locations. However, more localized mail delivery of letters and small packages in rural communities required only a postal worker and a good horse, as in the photo below taken of a U.S. Mail carrier in the Chandlersville-Rix Mills area. If you look closely, you can see the carrier has a badge on his hat. This was required of all U.S. postal carriers, except for those working for the RFD, a fact for which no explanation has been provided. The badge, like a police badge, carried the postman's identification number.
A mounted U.S. Mail carrier in the Chandlersville-Rix Mills area about 1905.
The badge on his hat is similar to the one shown here.

For more information and photographs about the history of U.S. postal delivery, visit Smithsonian's [Virtual] National Postal Museum