How the United States Post Office Helped Develop Transportation
The period between the American Revolution and WWI marked a significant era that showed just how important and influential the Post Office had become, particularly in the field of transportation. Transportation played a key role in ensuring quick and efficient mail delivery and with demand for better postal service increasing, the department needed to come up with a viable solution soon. The Post Office pioneered and supported inventions that had the potential to move mail faster and more safely. It didn't matter that some of those inventions were embarrassing or just total failures.
Mail delivery initially was performed on foot or horseback by messengers or people who were doing a friend or acquaintance a favor. In the 19th century, dedicated stagecoaches were used to deliver the mail. By 1813, the Post Office was already using steamboats to bring mail to post towns that were difficult to reach by road. Trains were used beginning in 1831, 7 years before railroads were even considered post roads. Mail delivery using trains were used to service short routes.
The Horseless Wagon
The pioneering attitude of the US Post Office made it possible for them to experiment with newer and better ways to transport mail. By 1896, the newest mode of transportation, referred to as the horseless wagon was already being developed. It didn't only offer a faster and more affordable means to carry mail, it would also later take the place of the horse and stagecoach. By 1899, the Post Office had already tested the feasibility of utilizing the automobile for collecting mail in New York. The first contract that would allow an automobile to carry mail was entered into in 1901. This involved transporting mail from the post office in Buffalo, New York to the postal office located in the grounds of the Pan American Exposition. The automobile traveled 4.5 miles in 35 minutes but it was enough to convince the government and the department to enter into another contract the next year.
The US Post Office used the automobile under contracts for 13 years beginning in 1901. It stopped only because of the high fees charged for the service and because of fraudulent activities. By late 1914, Congress approved the use of a dedicated motor vehicle exclusively for postal delivery.