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Carriers and their Uniforms

Illustration of a carrier, cir. 1865, using a Murray-style mail collection box
Illustration of a carrier, cir. 1865, using a Murray-style mail collection box

At first, carriers were not required to wear uniforms. In his 1892 annual report to Congress, Postmaster General John Wanamaker noted that while Section 613 of the postal laws and regulations provided for a uniform for letter carriers, "good discipline requires a more strict enforcement of its provisions." 

Wanamaker was concerned that as uniforms were regulated at the discretion of postmasters, there was no general uniform throughout the country. "Each locality," he noted, "provides its own and fixes its own price. . . As there is no regularity of time for procuring new uniforms, some of the carriers dress in worn, faded & shabby uniforms . . . it is the opinion of this office it should be made obligatory upon all carriers to furnish two uniform suits each year—one spring & summer on May 1st and one fall & winter on November 1st."

Letter carriers' sharp blue-grey uniforms stood out at a time when most other official uniforms (police, firemen, etc.) were dark blue in color. The uniforms purchased by carriers consisted of blue-gray sack coats, cut to extend two-thirds the distance from the hip to the knee, with matching pants.

Carrier in uniform, cir. 1890, posing with the bike he used for his daily rounds
Carrier in uniform, cir. 1890, posing with the bike he used for his daily rounds

Carriers' hats have gone through several changes. Panama hats were introduced in 1873. Beginning in 1887, carriers sported a police-style helmet in the winter and straw hats in the summer. Straw hats appeared in the early 1890s. In 1898 a military-style hat made popular by the exploits of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War appeared. Bell crown caps made their appearance in 1911.

Service stars were used to signify a carrier's length of service. After five years, one black star was worn on the uniform sleeve. For ten years, two black stars were applied and the sequence continued as service time increased. For 15 years service, one red star was worn. After 20 years, two red stars; followed by one silver star for 25 years; two silver stars after 30 years; one gold star for 35 years; two gold stars for 40 years; three gold stars for 45 years; and four gold stars for 50 years.

Carriers and other postal employees also wore badges of service. Badges were worn on hats or jackets. 

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Additional Imagery

  • letter carrier figurine showing the blue-gray color of the uniforms worn by letter carriers
    This letter carrier figurine shows the blue-gray color of the uniforms worn by letter carriers
  • photo of a mail carrier next to a letter box
    This early 20th century carrier is wearing a standard winter uniform.
  • Carrier with bell-style cap handing mail to a woman
    Carrier with bell-style cap

  • mail carrier on the steps up to a man's house, delivering mail
    In 1953 the "Eisenhower jacket" look is introduced to the carriers' uniforms.