Mail by Rail

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Lake Shore & Michigan Fast Mail train model

Congress authorized postal officials to contract with railroad companies to carry mail in 1838. The growing use of railway lines increased the department’s ability to move larger volumes of mail over greater distances, with greater speed.

It was the development of Railway Mail Service (RMS) in 1864 that gave the Post Office Department their greatest value in using railway lines. The new service became part of a department-wide reorganization plan that sought to decentralize the postal service by moving the majority of mail processing work to the clerks working on board these mail cars.

Railway Mail Service operated until 1977. Railway Post Office clerks were assigned to process mail inside specially-designed cars while trains sped along their way. Postal officials and railway companies created an intricate network of interconnected routes over which mail was carried and delivered with comparatively great speed. At its peak the service employed twenty thousand railway mail clerks who worked the mail on more than 216,000 miles of track.

This hand-crafted model shows the interior of a Railway Post Office train car. While in operation, such cars were so crowded with mail sacks and clerks that there was often little room for movement.