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The Railway Mail Service

black and white photo of postal workers sorting mail

For more than a century, the core of America’s postal system was the Railway Mail Service. The system of train lines that crisscrossed the nation carried passengers and mail in and out of large cities and small towns. The Railway Mail Service went a step further in service than passenger trains, providing mail delivery and pick-up to small towns where trains did not even stop. The service relied on partnerships with America’s railway companies and the dedication and efforts of the service’s Railway Post Office clerks. From its beginnings in the midst of the Civil War to its slow decline after World War II and the service’s last run in 1977, the history of America’s Railway Mail Service is one that was central to America’s postal history.


postal worker on a train

The Railway Mail Service Website

The American Railway Mail clerks were the elite of the Post Office Department. From 1864 to 1977, they traveled across the country aboard rickety rail cars in the pursuit of delivering mail to the masses. They courageously faced everything from unpredictable weather, robberies, and wrecks, all the while touting their motto “the mail must go through.” Amid the hardships, these clerks formed a lasting bond and camaraderie that is rarely seen in jobs today. This website is in dedication of their work with the Railway Mail Service (RMS), and highlights not only a history of the RMS, but the personal oral histories of some clerks who spent the “best times of their lives” braving the rails.


model of a mail train car

Mail Transportation by Railway Overview on Arago

Railway Mail Service carried the majority of U.S. mail for many decades. As the postal service decentralized its operations, it concentrated on sorting much of the growing volume of mail while it was being carried on the nation's rail lines.


postal workers sorting mail

Mail by Rail Story

The Railway Mail Service revolutionized the way mail was processed by sorting mail aboard moving trains. Railway mail service began in 1832, but grew slowly until the Civil War. In 1862, mail was sorted en route, as a train moved between two points. The idea proved to be exceptionally successful, and as the postal service decentralized its operations, it concentrated on sorting much of the growing volume of mail while it was being carried on the nation's rail lines.


Traveling on a Postage Stamp- advertisement with a cross section of a mail train

Advertisement for the New York Central Railroad 

The Railway Mail Service revolutionized the way mail was processed by sorting mail aboard moving trains. Railway mail service began in 1832, but grew slowly until the Civil War. In 1862, mail was sorted en route, as a train moved between two points. The idea proved to be exceptionally successful, and as the postal service decentralized its operations, it concentrated on sorting much of the growing volume of mail while it was being carried on the nation's rail lines.