Growing and Learning

Rural Free Delivery mail wagon
RFD mail wagons came in a variety of colors, including red, green, blue, cream and white.

By 1902, when Rural Free Delivery was made an official service, postal officials had begun to crack down on the carriers’ extracurricular activities. They successfully pushed for legislation that forbade carriers from soliciting business or carrying mail order parcels outside of the mail.

While cutting down on rural carriers’ other business opportunities was aimed at improving delivery speed, there were other factors at play that were not addressed by any legislation. For many, the RFD carrier was often the only regular visitor to their homes. In the early years of the service rural carriers found themselves being asked to help fix machines or take care of farm animals. Others opened mailboxes to find grocery lists and coins for buying the goods. The most common sights were coins or goods such as eggs or butter left alongside outgoing letters in mailboxes to pay for their postage. The latter was so common that carriers around the country pleaded with postmasters to ask patrons to purchase stamps directly from carriers and not leave scattered payments (of any kind) in their mailboxes.

Postal money order receipt
Money orders were among the many supplies Rural carriers brought with them in their "post office on wheels."
Rural Free Delivery warded mailbox padlock
Rural Americans trusted their carriers with the mail, but not always their neighbors. Some purchased locks for their mailboxes.
Rural Free Delivery mailbox
Rural families used a variety of mailbox types in the early years of the service.