Mail by Motor

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Ford Model A half-ton parcel post truck

The first vehicle used to carry mail for the Post Office Department was a Winton motor car tested in December 1899 in Cleveland, Ohio. The new vehicle covered 22 miles of paved and unpaved snow-covered streets in less than two and one-half hours. The pace was a dramatic improvement over the average time of six hours for a horse-drawn mail wagon.

Postal officials began looking to the new horseless carriages to transport mail in cities across the country. However, there were no efforts to establish any standardized purchase of mail trucks. By the 1920s there were forty-three different types of vehicles being used to carry mail, by twenty-three different manufacturers. Parts and service costs were draining the postal budget.

In 1929 Congress approved funding for a standardized fleet of postal vehicles. The Department focused on the three companies whose vehicles made up much of the postal fleet at the time — Ford Motor Company, Commerce, and White Motor Company. Of the three, the Ford trucks became the heart of the fleet.

This 1931 Ford Model A Parcel Post truck became a common sight on American roads. During the Great Depression of the 1930s and through America’s involvement in World War II from 1941-1945, new vehicle purchases were a low priority. As a result, trucks such as this were kept on the road longer than expected. Skilled mechanics helped keep them working as best they could. Bailing wire, talent and luck kept these aging vehicles on the road through the end of the war.