Methods of Delivering the Mail

Mail delivery began with the appointment of Benjamin Franklin as the first postmaster general in July 1775 by the Continental Congress and paid $1,000 a year. He saw good mail delivery as a method to connect and unite the colonies and eventually the states. It was transported by horseback riders on the rough-hewn roads between cities and towns. The time improved, having a letter from Philadelphia to New York and receive a reply in just 24 hours. By 1789 the horseback riders were spread to 75 post offices and covered 2,400 miles.

Into the 1790s stagecoaches were used to carry the mail. The routes expanded over the decades as the nation grew, including to the west coast with the Gold Rush of 1848. Traveling waterways was done with the steamboat by the 1820s. By 1848 mail on a steamship went from the east coast to the Isthmus of Panama, then overland and next a steamboat to California in about 3 weeks.

A big improvement in speed came in 1860 with the use of the Pony Express, going from Missouri to California, averaging 75 to 100 miles daily on horses. The mail was delivered in about 10 days. By 1862 the transcontinental telegraph line was complete and running so the Pony Express service needed.

After the Civil War in 1865, there was the transcontinental railroad system and mail was transported by trains. This method was used for decades.

By the 1910s automobiles were used by some postal workers to delivered letters and packages but many horse-drawn wagons and carts were still used until the 1930s.

In the early 20th century the airplane was developing and some mail was being flown in the late 1910s and into the 1920s. In 1924 airmail sent across the nation took 1 day and 10 hours to reach its destination. Airmail was very important during World War 2 (early 1940s), and tons of letters using Victory Mail (V-Mail) used lightweight stationery that folded into its own envelope. Next, those V-Mail letters were opened and microfilmed. About 1,600 letters could fit on one roll of film. The rolls of film with letters were shipped to military bases overseas, then developed the film and printed copies of the letters from home then delivered to soldiers. The same process was used with letters from soldiers back home. It saved some 5 million cargo pounds shipped in two years. The V-Mail service ran from June 1942 to November 1945. You may have some of those V-Mails saved over the years.

Letters of all types have been sent via the US Postal System since 1775 and they are true treasures in our family history. Take another look at any you have, check the date and you will have an idea of which method was used to deliver it.

Also, see if you can learn if an ancestor ever worked for the US Postal System.

Photos: Mail Delivery to home; Stagecoach mail; Pony Express route; Trains carrying mail ; mail truck in 1920; and 1940s V-Mail letter.

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