Using the Carriers

We Pay for Information!
–Advertisement in RFD News by Chicago Telephone Supply Company, 1904

Refer to caption
Unidentified rural carrier with an umbrella full of advertising promotions, including “eyes tested free,” on the front panel.

The cost of purchasing and maintaining their own equipment was a hardship on many carriers. As one noted in 1903, “There’s little enough left from my $50 a month salary after operating expenses are paid.” Those expenses included payments on bank loans to purchase a $50 mail wagon, two horses at $90, and harness and blankets costing $20. Added to that were the monthly bills, including $3 a month for the blacksmith, $17 a month for feed, $2 per month for veterinary services, and $1.75 per month for wagon and harness maintenance. The rent on this carrier’s home was another $8 a month. This left very little of the carrier’s salary left for living expenses.

Early carriers found ways to supplement their pay. Some carriers distributed advertising cards which informed patrons that errands or merchandise from town could be exchanged for goods such as eggs, or money. One carrier’s card from New Hampshire had the notation “Laundry collected Monday, returned Saturday.”

In a 1904 article titled “Rural Carriers’ Side Lines,”(1) the New York Sun notes that country storekeepers and mail order houses were both crying foul at rural carriers’ attempts to supplement their salaries.

As soon as Postmaster-General Payne is able to resume his duties at the Post Office Department he intends to take active steps toward securing much needed legislation for the rural free delivery service.

Hundreds of complaints are pouring into the Department protesting against rural free delivery carriers being permitted to act as agents for everything under the sun.

There has been a change in the tone of the complaints. Formerly all the protests came from the country storekeepers, who said that the rural carriers were acting as agents for big mail order concerns of the country and that their business was being ruined in consequence. Lately complaints have been received from the mail order concerns themselves, because the carriers have gone into business on their own hook, leaving both the country storekeeper and the mail order houses in the lurch.

At first, postal officials were not concerned about their carriers’ extra-curricular activities. But before long it became obvious that these extra duties were interfering with their primary job of delivering the mail. That, combined with growing complaints from the private sector of interference with commerce, resulted in the Post Office Department’s decision to neither sanction nor condone sideline job work by its employees.

1) The New York Sun, “Rural Carriers’ Side Lines,” March 16, 1904, p. 5, column 1.