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Reaching Rural America

Long after city dwellers began to enjoy free home mail delivery, rural Americans still had to travel to the post office—which was often located in a country store—to pick up their mail. Many journeyed considerable distances over tough and muddy roads to get their mail, with no assurance that any letters would be there. Farm families, who paid the same postage rates as the rest of the nation, began to complain. For decades Congress was reluctant to act, fearing that the country was so large that free rural delivery would be a financial disaster.

Experimental rural delivery finally began in 1896. Eight years later, the enormously popular service became an official part of the Post Office Department.


Gen'l Delivery Stamps sign on wooden door

Dillsburg—the rural post office

One of the first sights greeting visitors to Reaching Rural America is a small-town post office used in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania from 1917-1971.


The exhibits below, once part of Reaching Rural America, are no longer on display in the museum. They are still available online. Click on the topic titles below to learn more about them.

mail sled on display

Mail Sleds

Mail sleds were used in the northern states during winter months as mobile post offices.


a variety of rural mailboxes

Rural Mailboxes

The now-familiar tunnel-shaped mailbox was designed in 1915 by a Post Office engineer, Roy J. Joroleman.


an exhibit with an Uncle Sam figurine and a small plane

Folk Art Mailboxes

Within the framework of postal requirements, rural Americans use their mailboxes to express their individuality.


Ford Model T on display

Snowbird

This 1921 Ford Model-T has front wheels that are interchangeable with skis, and rear tires fitted with tank-like treads. Learn more about these old fashioned snowmobiles.


photo of objects in the Parcel Post Service exhibit

Parcel Post Service

Parcel Post Service was an immediate and overwhelmingly popular success. Although the exhibit is not currently on display in the Museum, selected portions of the exhibit are still available online.


Related Videos

black and white screenshot of a man on a horse

RFD: To The Country

RFD: To the Country explores the history of Rural Free Delivery. Beginning in 1896, this service helped put rural Americans in better touch with the world.

screenshot of an African American woman talking

RFD: The Second Century

In 1996, the National Postal Museum produced this video that celebrated the Rural Free Delivery centennial and looks at how the service works in this day and age.