“Upon each of these wharf-boats the association’s officer placed a strongbox, fastened with a peculiar lock which was used in no other service but one – the United States mail service. It was the letter-bag lock, a sacred governmental thing.”
—Mark Twain, Old Times in Mississippi, 1876
The Star Route Service and its contractors work to ensure safe transportation of the mail. In the past, moving the mail could be a dangerous business. Contractors usually traveled the road alone. Now, on-board computers, satellite tracking, and 24-hour dispatch assist contractors on their routes.
Thick, leather pouches were used during the nineteenth century. They were watertight, durable, and withstood repeated use and weighty contents. Mailbags like this were typically used on stagecoaches lines and other Star Routes. The pouches remained locked while in transit to secure the contents. The padlock, however, did not always deter crime; the slit in this pouch, below, is reputed to have been made during a robbery.
This brass lock, below, developed by the Eagle Lock Company was used specifically on Star Routes. Padlocked mailbags were to be opened only by postal officials. Until the end of the 1800s, robbing a mail carrier warranted a jail term of five to ten years at hard labor for a first offense. A second offense could bring life at hard labor or a death sentence.