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Smithsonian National Postal Museum


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Customers and Communities : Serving the Cities : Carriers & Mail Delivery : Household Mailboxes

Household Mailboxes

silver metal mailbox
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Black mailbox with "US Mail" written on it
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In 1916, efficiency experts determined that letter carriers were losing almost two hours daily waiting for patrons to come to the door. To gain back those precious hours, the Post Office Department decided that every household must have a mail box or letter slot in order to receive mail.

As early as the 1880s, the postal service had begun to encourage homeowners to attach mailboxes to their houses. In 1890, a postal commission examined 564 models and designs of household mailboxes submitted by designers and inventors. The Post Office Department request for examples had stated that the mailboxes had to meet certain standards.
  • Carriers should be able to deposit mail and collect mail "without delay" from the device.
  • The mailbox must be inexpensive and able to withstand bad weather, destructive pranksters, and secure the mail against thieves as best as possible.
  • The mailbox must be simple enough that it does not require excessive time to open, while being "ornamental enough to please the householder."
  • The mailbox also had to be large enough to receive papers, and have some way of signaling to letter carriers that mail was in it, ready to be collected.
Not a single box of the 564 submitted fit enough of these guidelines to be approved by the postal service. Hundreds of mailbox designs were submitted for patent approval. The postal service finally agreed to accept mailboxes that fulfilled most of their requirements, but shied away from endorsing specific designs.



Mailbox with lock on latch
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