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5c green Motorcycle stamp

Motorcycle 1913 (Scott Catalogue #1899) © 1983 USPS. All rights reserved

“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.

Some Star Route contractors paid the ultimate price. Robbers caught up to a stagecoach and murdered the man carrying the mailbag above. They then slashed the bag and stole the mail. Made from thick leather, these mailbags were tough and watertight.

To help ensure mail’s security, mailbags were locked and could be opened only by postal officials. This brass lock developed by the Eagle Lock Company was used specifically on Star Routes. 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.