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1921-1940

Post Office Department mechanics and vehicles awaiting repair at postal garage
Post Office Department mechanics and vehicles awaiting repair at postal garage.

By 1921, the mish-mash of vehicle types that was the U.S. postal fleet had become unwieldy. The 4,000 trucks owned by the Department consisted of 43 different types of trucks by 23 different manufacturers. The cost to maintain parts and train mechanics to service all the vehicle styles was draining the postal budget.

In the early years of postal motor vehicle service, finding the right part to repair a truck was often a case of seeking a needle in a haystack. During the Second World War, it became a case of using parts already on hand. New parts were difficult to come by, as factory after factory focused on the nation’s military needs.

Taming Chaos

As if the variety of mail trucks was not enough of a challenge to mechanics, most of those trucks were assembled with sections from
different manufacturers. For instance, the Acme mail truck had an axis made by Timken, an engine by Continental, transmission by Cotta, carburetor by Rayfield and additional parts by Pierce, Eisemann and Blood Brothers companies.

“When you hear talk of keeping a vehicle together with bailing wire, believe me, the Post Office was good at it.” - Jim Byrne, Baltimore letter carrier

Letter carrier posing in front of his mail truck
Letter carrier posing in front of his mail truck.

Officials had to standardize the postal fleet before it became uncontrollable and useless. They did so by reducing the number of manufacturers from which they purchased their vehicles. The Department focused on the three companies whose vehicles made up much of the postal fleet at the time – Ford Motor Company Commerce and White Motor Company. Of the three, it was the Ford trucks that became the heart of the fleet. 

Showing Their Age

During the Great Depression of the 1930s and America’s involvement in World War II from 1941–1945, new truck purchases were a low priority at the Post Office Department. As a result, trucks bought in the 1920s and early 1930s were kept on the road longer than expected. Skilled mechanics helped keep those trucks operating as best they could. Bailing wire, talent and luck kept these aging vehicles on the road through the end of the war.

“Due to [World War II] we literally drove the trucks until the fenders fell, or rusted, off.” - Larry Clark, Post Office Department driver

Postal trucks lined up outside a Washington, DC, postal garage
Postal trucks lined up outside a Washington, DC, postal garage.

The Department was hit with another setback during the war when many of its mechanics were called into service. Officials brought retired mechanics back to work. These men found themselves repairing the same vehicles they had worked on decades before.

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Additional Imagery

  • Postal truck on the road next to a mailbox
    By the 1950s, some postal trucks had been on the road for 30 years.
  • 1931 Ford Model A Parcel Post truck on display in the Museum's atrium
    This 1931 Ford Model A Parcel Post truck has been fully restored and is on display in the Museum's atrium.