The Early Years

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Rural Free Delivery mailbox

The early, poorly-paid carriers, discovered they could make extra money as traveling salesmen. After all, they were visiting each home on their route already. Many reasoned, so why not make extra money selling items or providing services? In the early years, the Post Office Department even encouraged carriers to supplement their income as long as the mail was not delayed. Carriers distributed advertising cards which informed patrons that errands or merchandise from town would be exchanged for goods, such as eggs, or money. Parcels larger than four pounds in weight were not yet allowed through the mail, and businesses were quick to discover the possibilities of using carriers’ contacts to expand their market. A variety of businesses ran ads in carrier publications offering “big money for information” about potential customers on their routes, or to pay carriers for taking orders for goods, distributing free samples or even selling insurance.

An Iowa representative mentioned in the 1903 Congressional Record that one Iowa RFD carrier’s business was so large he was said to have had three large wagons following him as he delivered the mail. In 1904 the New York Sun complained that carriers “sell provisions, dry goods, furniture, horseshoes, farming implements, fertilizer, chocolate caramels, and tar roofing; take subscriptions for newspapers, magazines, and turf investment bureaus, insure lives and houses, erect lightening rods, and put down driven wells.”