The Star Route Service

What is a Star Route?

Celerity, Security, Certainty - Star Route logo

The legislation establishing new mail service in 1845 called for contractors to carry the mail with “celerity, certainty, and security.”


Weary of repeatedly writing these words in ledgers, postal clerks substituted three asterisks— * * * —and the phrase “Star Route” was born. Star Routes were renamed "Highway Contract Routes” in 1970, though they are still commonly known by their original name today.

Star Route Service
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-From the earliest days of the US Postal Service some mail delivery was contracted out to private carriers. Some still is.

-I'm proud, very proud. And neither rain, nor snow, or sleet, orstorm, or tornadoes, or cold weather, dogs, alligators, or flood will stop me. I will go.

-This water route in Magnolia Springs, Alabama has been around for nearly a century. What would take 85 miles by land, is 25 by boat.

-It's exciting. Things happen. Got to know the mules. You got to watch out for the packs, and you got to keep alert.

-Havasupai Indians carry their mail today as they've done for decades, eight miles down the Grand Canyon by mule train.

Dog sleds brought mail to isolated Alaskan towns until 1963. Now it goes by charter plane.

-We have a contract that goes to beluga and Tyonik, two little Native villages. And then once a week we also go to Alexander Creek which is just a little dirt strip in the middle of nowhere with about 20 local people to live there. Every Tuesday is the mail plane and it's kind of their opportunity to get together.

-Star Route service began in places too sparsely populated to warrant an official route. The Postal Service granted contracts to independent carriers to deliver mail with certainty, security, and celerity. How they did that was up to them.

Today most go by truck. And many haul mail long distances having taken over railroad routes discontinued in the 1950s and 60s. There are however some routes which trucks can never take over, like this mail boat delivering to the crews of freighters along the Detroit River.

[Sung:] I'm Jim Burns, the mailman.
I'm Jim Burns, the mailman.
They drop down to pale. I put in the mail.
I'm Jim Burns, the mailman.
Toot! Toot!