The Establishment of Free City Delivery

Letters sent during the early years of the 19th century did not use envelopes. Letters were instead folded and addresses written on the back of the paper. Letters were also only delivered to addresses in about 40 cities, for an extra charge, of course. For the rest, recipients had to go to the post office to claim their letters. Postage stamps were already being sold in 1847 but many mailers still opted to send mails with postage fees charged to the recipients. This spelled out losses for the Post Office because many recipients refused letters that they had to pay for.

By 1858, mail collection boxes began appearing in the streets of large cities. Residents of large cities didn't enjoy free mail delivery until 1863. By 1890, mail was already being delivered to residents of cities in the United States by over 450 post offices.

Residents of rural areas and farmers had to wait until the late 1890s to begin enjoying free delivery. This meant a great deal to many families living in farms, whose only means to communicate with other people and learn about the latest news was the mail that came in. For many families, the nearest post station was several miles away, requiring a day-long round trip. One farmer in Missouri even stated that in the 15 years he spent picking up his mail, he had covered 12,000 miles. Because of the distance and the inconvenience of the trip, it wasn't uncommon for farmers to just put off picking up their mail, sometimes for as long as a few months.

The plan for the Rural Free Delivery was delayed because of strong opposition from critics who believed delivering mail to rural areas would be too expensive and impractical. The RFD was implemented nevertheless and opened up great opportunities for developing the road and highway system of America. Because roads had to be good to be used for mail delivery, local governments began spending to build bridges and construct highways, linking Americans everywhere.

Learn More: