Mail Trolleys

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St. Louis Meramec trolley car

May 19, 2017 - September 10, 2017

Carrying Mail, Not People

By the 1890s American cities were bursting at the seams with people, businesses and homes. Several used electric-powered or horse-drawn trolley cars to move people through cities and to and from the burgeoning suburbs. One postmaster, Major John Harlow of St. Louis, Missouri, decided to use trolleys to speed up mail deliveries. Harlow put clerks on board specially-designed trolley cars to process mail while they moved through St. Louis, just as clerks on Railway Post Office cars sorted mail on moving trains. St. Louis’ citizens were about to receive their mail faster than ever before.

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The first video, produced by Harry Miles, shows a trolley going down Market Street in San Francisco, CA just days before the devastating 1906 earthquake. Notice the letter carrier on the right with his satchel. He is waiting with a small group to board a streetcar. While mail trolleys carried mail to be sorted, regular trolleys often carried letter carriers from their routes back to the post office.

The second video (min 3:17) shows a wagon waiting to make an exchange with a trolley mail car on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. in 1903.


[sounds of street traffic]