Networking a Nation

The Star Route Service
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The Networking a Nation exhibition and the 1851 Concord stagecoach on display in the National Postal Museum's Atrium

February 21, 2006 - Permanent

In 1845, postal officials tried a new approach to expand the nation’s mail service—Star Routes. The Post Office Department hired contractors for these new routes and allowed them to use any form of transportation they chose to carry the mail, from canoes to snowshoes. The mail has traveled along this network of Star Routes across America’s valleys, mountains, rivers, and highways ever since.

An airplane landing in snow

...to carry the mail with "celerity, certainty, and security."

A truck and a man in the snow

For Star Route contractors, the “best” technology was the one that fit the route.

Illustration of a coach being pulled by horses

Concord-style mail coaches first appeared in the 1820s and remained in use into the early 1900s.

Sled dogs in a line

Whether riding on horseback, wagon wheels, or massive truck tires, contractors adopted methods that sped the movement of mail.

Two men standing in a boat in icy water

...the efficiency and flexibility of today's Star Route Service is a tribute to the innovations that led the way.

Illustration of a stagecoach wreck

The Star Route Service and its contractors work to ensure safe transportation of the mail.

A crane assisting a mail car

...Contractors navigated rough terrain, bad weather, and even political corruption.

A man wearing skis standing in snow

“... in those mountains he was the pioneer of the pack train, the stagecoach, and the locomotive.”

Red and white US Mail steel pail

...The steamer lowered the pail to a smaller mail vessel to drop off and pick up mail.

A stagecoach being pulled by horses through shallow water

“Neither rain, nor snow, or sleet or storm, or tornadoes, or cold weather, dogs, alligators, or floods will stop me. I will go.”

map of the US

The Star Route Service began as an effort to save money and expand the range of the postal system...

 A house with a Model T in front

Today, over 10,000 Star Route contractors help network a nation.