Reaching Rural America

Photo mural at the entrance to the Reaching Rural America shows people in front of a country home with text that reads, When we can all have the conveniences of city life in our country homes (and the free postal delivery is one of them) there will be less desire for city life. -E. A. Wheeler, Westside, California, 1898
“When we can all have the conveniences of city life in our country homes (and the free postal delivery is one of them) there will be less desire for city life.” —E. A. Wheeler, Westside, California, 1898

Long after city dwellers began to enjoy free home mail delivery, rural Americans still had to travel to the post office—which was often located in a country store—to pick up their mail. Many journeyed considerable distances over tough and muddy roads to get their mail, with no assurance that any letters would be there. Farm families, who paid the same postage rates as the rest of the nation, began to complain. For decades Congress was reluctant to act, fearing that the country was so large that free rural delivery would be a financial disaster.

Experimental rural delivery finally began in 1896. Eight years later, the enormously popular service became an official part of the Post Office Department.

modular post office unit made of wood, metal grill, and small stained glass signs

One of the first sights greeting visitors to Reaching Rural America is a small-town post office used in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania from 1917-1971.

The below exhibits, once part of Reaching Rural America, are no longer on display in the museum but they are still available online. Select the titles below to learn more about them.

Rural Free Delivery Mail Sled

Mail sleds were used in the northern states during winter months as mobile post offices.

Rural Mailboxes

The now-familiar tunnel-shaped mailbox was designed in 1915 by a Post Office engineer, Roy J. Joroleman.

Folk Art Mailboxes

Within the framework of postal requirements, rural Americans use their mailboxes to express their individuality.

Model T Ford- Snowbird

This 1921 Ford Model-T has front wheels that are interchangeable with skis, and rear tires fitted with tank-like treads. Learn more about these old fashioned snowmobiles.

Precious Packages- America's Parcel Post Service

Parcel Post Service was an immediate and overwhelmingly popular success. Although the exhibit is not currently on display in the Museum, selected portions of the exhibit are still available online.

Related Videos

RFD: To The Country

RFD: To the Country explores the history of Rural Free Delivery. Beginning in 1896, this service helped put rural Americans in better touch with the world.

RFD: The Second Century

In 1996, the National Postal Museum produced this video that celebrated the Rural Free Delivery centennial and looks at how the service works in this day and age.