Unlike city carriers, rural mail carriers were responsible for providing their own transportation. This requirement, and the dramatic growth of the service (from 44 routes in 1897 to 24,566 in 1904), was too tempting for wagon manufacturers to resist. As a result, wagon and cart advertisements were predominant in rural postmaster and carrier publications.
Wagon Manufacturers and Sellers
Otto Armleder’s Cincinnati, Ohio carriage company posted this advertisement in The Postal Record in 1902. The Record, a publication by and for city letter carriers, was also read by postmasters and the growing numbers of rural carriers. Prior to 1903, when the magazine for rural carriers, RFD News, began publication, marketers used other postal publications to reach the rural carrier audience. Armleder’s company followed the lead of a number of other carriage makers in 1912 when it formally accepted the future and became the Armleder Motor Truck Company.
The Ashmman Heater Company was a company owned and operated by a former school teacher, Lewis C. Ashman of New Paris, Ohio. Unlike his competitors, Ashman understood the importance of a good wagon to rural carriers. He worked in that capacity in New Paris, using a horse, buggy, and a heater that he had helped develop for use in wagons. In 1907 John Shutz and Madison Kirkman of Richmond, Indiana assigned Ashman 1/4th of patent #870,648 for a vehicle heater.
Lewis left the heater business to his son, Clyde, and became a car dealer, operating in New Paris and Eaton, Ohio through the 1930s.
This ad for a cart from the Auburn Wagon and Buggy Works emphasizes the cart’s light weight and lower cost. The company produced a wide variety of wagons and carts, including this advertised cart for rural carriers. For some RFD carriers, a small cart was all they needed to deliver mail on their daily rounds. This changed in 1913 with the addition of Parcel Post Service to the Post Office Department’s offerings. Once a wide variety of packages were permitted in the US mail, RFD carriers found it necessary to use larger wagons (or automobiles) in order to carry everything.
The Burns Brothers of Havre de Grace, Maryland, offered up this advertisement for their “New Little Beauty Wagon” for rural carriers. The company’s full name was “W.E. Burns and Brothers Carriage Works.” The company was established and managed by Walter Elsworth Burns. Walter’s brothers Reese, Alfred, Charles, and Jonathan also joined the company over the next decade. The Burns brothers manufactured and sold carriages from 1896 through the first decades of the 20th century. Like a number of other carriage companies, the Burns brothers turned to the promise of automobiles in the early 20th century.
The Butler Company was formed at the turn of the last century by seven gentlemen from Butler, Indiana. The group purchased the assets of Butler Manufacturing Company, which operated between 1888-1899. The Butler Company began manufacturing buggies, including those designed for rural letter carriers. While the idea of a wagon so well built that neither winter clothes nor a heater would be necessary was appealing, the company’s “sensible” winter vehicles were not a great success in the less temperate areas of the nation.
The company produced a variety of items, from bicycles to an airplane. The company began focusing on the manufacture of pumps, valves, and windmills.
Advertisement for rural mail wagon manufactured by Delphi Wagons Works. The company used a testimonial from Jasonville, Indiana rural carrier Henry T. Saucerman to help promote the wagon. In his letter, the carrier noted that the wagon “is all you claim for it and more.” The Delphi Wagon Works began when William Dunkle and James Kilgore of Delphi, Indiana, joined forces to produce wagons and farm plows in 1848. The pair widened the scope of their manufacturing over the years and by the 1850s were producing boilers and steam engines. The wagon side of the business underwent more changes, moving into Fisher Wagons (when Jacob Fisher and Lambert Hare bought it in 1879). The Delphi Wagon Works grew out of Fisher Wagons, when William Bradshaw took over the entire company in 1892. It was under that name that Bradshaw’s company began manufacturing light-weight wagons for use by rural carriers. By 1929 the company changed its name to Delphi Body Works, reflecting its increased focus on custom built vehicle bodies. That company is still in business as of 2012.
Ferguson Carriage Works was owned and operated by Alvah P. Ferguson. He began the operation at 21 years old in Dexter, Michigan, later moving to Ann Arbor and then Yipsilanti in the state. By the end of the 19th century Ferguson’s shop was manufacturing 6,000 carts each year, in addition to a variety of other wagons. In the early years of rural delivery, not all areas were swamped with mail, and rural carriers could chose two-wheeled carts over four-wheeled ones if they wished. The carts were less expensive, but as Ferguson’s ad noted, the company believed there were six other very good reasons for selecting a cart, especially a Ferguson-built mail cart. The reasons were (1) a two wheeled cart would give the rider only one jolt instead of two when crossing over road bumps; (2) carts were easier on horses; (3) curtains were easy to add when needed; (4) the mail box could be lifted out and taken into the post office to collect mail; (5) the mail box could be lifted out when carriers wanted to use their wagons outside of work; and (6) the cart could be adjusted in “one minute” to fit any horse.
In 1909 Ferguson partnered with Andrew Reule and William J. Clancy, president and vice-president, respectively, of the Ann Arbor Buggy Company to incorporate Ferguson, Clancy & Reule Company as a carriage, wagon and sleigh manufacturing company in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
William R. Hunter had served as quartermaster of his regiment during the Civil War. He was able to put his business acumen to use when he purchased John J. Fouts’ interest in 1866 in a livery company built two years earlier by John and his brother Andrew. The new business of Fouts & Hunter grew through the next decades. They established stables in Terre Haute, IN and St. Louis, MO. After the St. Louis venture proved an expansion too bold, the company retreated to Terre Haute in debt. The company’s savior was a government contract in December 1877 to supply the cavalry with horses. Hunter moved the firm along by introducing the purchase and resale of buggies. He would bring a load of buggies from Cincinnati to Terre Haute, where he sold them at auction. The addition of buggies and carriages was a financial success. The company’s building was destroyed by fire in 1893. After that disaster, Fouts and Hunter rebuilt their factory, focusing now on carriages and other horse-drawn vehicles. The burgeoning Rural Free Delivery market was a natural new market for the company.
Walter Frazier was a businessman who also raised trotting horses. He noticed the carts used to train young horses were heavy and unwieldy. He tinkered with designs and produced a lighter two-wheeled cart that he called the “Frazier road cart.” He began manufacturing his carts Aurora, Illinois. The business grew steadily and well. In 1885 his sons Walter Jr. and Edward joined the company. The company jumped on the RFD bandwagon, marketing their “light, strong and durable” carts to rural carriers.
An advertisement in R.F.D. News with two illustrations of the “Light Runner” style of RFD wagons, manufactured by the Harrington Manufacturing Company. Harrington was a major manufacturer of rural mail delivery wagons. The company, incorporated in Monticello, IL in 1903, moved to Peoria the following year. The company produced full page ads for the R.F.D. News. For several years, the publication’s back page was a Harrington Company advertisement.
Kelk Company’s model #3 RFD wagon. The Kelk Carriage Works operated out of Sedalia, Missouri. Among the wagons produced by the company was this RFD wagon. Kelk and other companies often showed their rural mail wagons with spaces where carriers could paint in their route numbers. In this case a space is suggested on the side of the wagon roof. The company was founded by Thomas Kelk, a blacksmith turned carriage manufacturer, in 1867. Kelk, born in England, immigrated to Canada, and then moved to the United States after the Civil War. By the 1870s his company, known as Eastern Carriage Works, was operated by George Walker and Thomas Kelk and located on Osage Street in Sedalia. By the 20th century the company was known as Kelk Carriage Works.
Advertisement for Lewis & Neville Manufacturing Company’s “Arrow Head” wagon, which the company boasted was the “final word” in mail wagon architecture. The pointed front, designed to split the wind and allow the wagon to move faster, was an interesting design feature, but not a convincing argument for carriers. The “Arrow Head” wagon did not dominate the market. The company incorporated in 1905 with George W. Lewis as president and Robert O. Neville sales manager. Later, Neville took over as president. The company offered wagons designed for milk and general delivery as well as mail.
In 1876 William C. Manley and C.J. Hill established the Manley-Hill Carriage Company in St. Louis, Missouri. The company was incorporated there in 1887. William and his brother, John D. Manley, owed a variety of businesses in St. Louis at the turn of the last century. In 1888 John joined with Thomas V. Thompson to create Manley & Thompson, (which by 1902 had become the John D. Manley Implement Company). In 1896, William Manley partnered with George E. Deeds to manufacture and sell vehicles, farm implements and wagons in St. Louis, Missouri. Manley worked with Deeds until 1908, when Manley bought out Deeds to operate the business alone.
Advertisement emphasizing the weather-conscious characteristics of the Terre Haute Carriage & Buggy Company’s RFD wagon. The Terre Haute Carriage and Buggy Company was another large manufacturer of rural mail wagons.
In 1899 the company created these quarter-size working models for use by the Department in helping to convince the US Congress to increase appropriations for rural mail service. RFD, which began as an experiment in October 1896, did not become a permanent service until 1902. When the company built the wagon models, they were investing in the Department’s long-term success in hopes of creating a new market for their goods. Prior to this, the company had received a contract to build special “screened” mail wagons in 1897. Screen wagons allowed mail to be stored and secured in the wagon while it was being transported between post offices and railroad stations.