Rural-Free Delivery

Americans in large towns and cities had been receiving their mail at home since 1863. Unfortunately, in rural and tiny villages and towns, Americans had to travel many miles to their nearest Post Office, not even knowing whether there was any mail waiting for them. The estimate in 1890 was that 41 million Americans or 65% of the population lived in rural areas.

When Congress in 1896 voted for Rural Free Delivery, or “RFD,” politicians hoped that daily mail delivery could get vital information to farmers and ease the isolation of farm life. On October 1, 1896, rural free delivery (RFD) service began in Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla in West Virginia. Within a year, 44 routes were operating in 29 states.

Millions of rural people eagerly subscribed to daily newspapers and monthly magazines once RFD made it affordable and the mail-order catalogs that came through the post office put some of the luxuries of urban life within reach of rural families such as wristwatches, French lace, and electric toasters.

The RFD had some unintended consequences too; when farmers stopped traveling to town to get the mail and started shopping using catalogs, local businesses suffered. Because it proved difficult for postmen to navigate narrow muddy roads, the federal government devoted funds to improve post roads, first in 1916 and again in 1936. This made a vast difference for rural people’s ability to take their crops to market and send their children to school.

Rural Free Delivery cost the government $40 million per year in the 1910s, and that money improved access to goods and information for millions of people. This was a major improvement and good use of tax monies.

It is interesting that many small towns, the citizens actually liked going to the local post office to get their mail. Even if there was no mail for them, they got the opportunity to visit with other town citizens and catch up with the latest town news. That included some towns not starting rural free delivery until the 1940s.

Check the size of the family hometown and if possible when rural free delivery of mail started. That information might be with the local museum, the town’s post office or for sure in the town’s local newspapers.

Since many new jobs become available because of this RFD, check if you had ancestors who delivered the mail.

Photos: RFD over the years.

Related Blogs:

Vintage Occupations and Slang Terms

Occupations by Another Name

Granddad’s Old Job

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