During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, letter carriers knocked on the door and waited patiently for someone to answer. Efficiency experts estimated that each carrier lost an hour and a half each day just waiting for patrons to come to the door. To gain back those precious hours, in 1923 the Post Office Department mandated that every household have a mailbox or letter slot to receive mail.
Residential mailboxes might be inexpensive, yet they must be strong enough to withstand inclement weather. They must be secure against thieves, yet simple enough to open without trouble. Letters, papers, and magazines must easily fit inside, and they must have a signaling device to notify carriers that mail is ready for collection. Though letter carriers need to collect and deposit mail without delay, mailboxes may be ornamental enough to please the resident. Mailboxes that meet the list of criteria issued by the Post Office are stamped “Approved by the Postmaster General.”
Although many standard mailbox designs exist, people often personalize their residential mailboxes. Mailbox folk art is very popular, especially along rural routes. Keep an eye out on your next road trip for unusual mailboxes!
Allison Marsh, National Postal Museum