Becoming Normal

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Rural carrier on his rounds in 1940

As a national service, Rural Free Delivery was a massive and promising new market with great potential for advertisers. Especially in the first decades of service, when its growth was lightening fast and seemingly unending, the potential of this new market held great promise for American businesses. The RFD-targeted marketing grew from a surplus of random products from numerous companies to a concentrated, organized system of targeted tactics. Ads evolved from simple illustrations and explanations to elaborate pieces utilizing photographs and personal testimonies from everyday RFD carriers.

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Lewis & Neville Parcels Post wagon advertisement
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Harrington Parcels Post wagon advertisement

As the First World War died down and the US transitioned from a mostly rural to majority urban society, the growth and promise of RFD began to level off. The service was nationally recognized and understood. Patrons no longer relied on carriers’ input in selecting mailboxes. And carriers could choose from a wide market of products available for the everyday auto driver. Rural Free Delivery as a promising new market had come to an end. Through the 20th century advertisers continued to market to RFD carriers and their patrons. The products were no longer created with RFD in mind, but instead a wide variety of products marketed to Americans in a wide variety of careers and areas.

In the few short decades after the RFD market opened up, rural carriers and their needs caught the eyes of businesses across the commercial spectrum. From transportation and clothing needs to weather-related equipment and mailboxes, American businesses reached out to tap this new and seemingly endless market.

As Rural Free Delivery moved from novelty to normality, companies advertising their goods in rural employee publications changed. Gone were the scatter-shot ads asking for information on rural patrons. Mailbox manufacturers shrank to those that had the Postmaster General stamp of approval. The arrival of parcel post service on January 1, 1913 was the next big step in the evolution of rural delivery, bringing the goods of the world to their door on a regular basis. The Harrington and Lewis & Neville wagon companies recognized this next step with advertisements for their new, and bigger, wagons.

Rural Free Delivery postage stamp
The USPS celebrated the centennial of Rural Free Delivery service with this stamp in 1996.
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