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Abstracts of Papers

Postal History Symposium
“Postal Reform”
October 30-November 1, 2009
American Philatelic Center, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania

 

October 30, 2009, Friday Morning  (9:30 – 10:30) – Early Reform


"The Rise and Fall of the Government Carrier Service in New York, August 16, 1842 to November 28, 1846"  
Larry Lyons

This is a very unique story about how the government tried to gain control of carrier service in New York by purchasing the Grieg’s city Despatch Post, a local post which had been operating successfully in New York City since February 1, 1842. Effective on August 16, 1842 the post became the ‘United States City Despatch Post”, an official service of the Post Office. There wasn’t time to print new stamps so the City Despatch Post adhesives created by Grieg (40L1) were used but were now official carrier stamps (6LB1). The U.S. City Despatch Post used a new “U.S.” handstamp in a rough octagon and a new datestamp. The government had officially entered the race to gain control of mail by purchasing a local post.

The U.S. City Despatch Post functioned well until mid 1845. On July 1, 1845 the price of the U.S. City Despatch Post carrier service rose to 4 cents retail and 3½ cents wholesale. This was necessary because the post office “drop letter” rate was increased on the same day to 2 cents from 1 cent. Congress raised the drop letter rate out of fear that the new postage structure which established the 5 cent and 10 cent postage rates would cause a severe decline in postal revenues. Because the intercity rate was lowered Congress hoped to offset some of the anticipated losses by raising the drop letter rate. A “drop letter” is a piece of mail that is brought to the post office for pickup by the addressee. Drop letters are not transmitted to another post office.

The consequences of this legislation for the U.S. City Despatch Post were immediate and dire. Prior to July 1, 1845 a drop letter could be taken by the carrier to or from the post office for 3 cents, which included 2 cents for the carrier department and 1 cent for the post office (drop postage). Beginning July 1, an extra cent was required for the drop postage, making the total amount equal to 4 cents. Although other classes of mail were unaffected by the drop-rate increase (including carrier letters that bypassed the main post office), the U.S. City Despatch found itself at a severe disadvantage competing with local posts, who generally charged 2 cents for a city letter. In the post-July 1 period, not only did Boyd flourish, but many smaller local posts entered the scene, hoping to capture a share of the market for intra-city letter delivery.

On November 28, 1846 the government discontinued carrier service in New York City. The Postmaster General allowed one of its carriers, Abraham Mead, to succeed the U.S. City Despatch Post. Government carrier service in New York had been forced to stop its operations and would not appear again in New York City until 1849.

The symposium paper will show all of the carrier adhesives used by the United States City Despatch Post and their usages. The various shades of color will be explored for the first time. The U.S. City Despatch Post adhesives include America’s first carrier stamp and the first use by the government of a glazed paper adhesive. The first government overprinted stamp is a U.S. City Despatch Post adhesive. The U.S. City Despatch Post adhesives were also the first government adhesives used to prepay intercity postage.

 

"The U.S. 1847 Issue: Stamps that Changed the System"
Harvey Mirsky

The problem was deficits.

By the 1840’s, the U.S. Postal Service was incurring annual deficits of such magnitude that they threatened the very viability of the system itself.

There were 4 main causes of these deficits:

1. a complex system of postage rates that was not only expensive to administer, but which actually discouraged use of the mails by average citizens;

2. abuse of the “free franking” privilege by local Postmasters;

3. serious competition from independent posts that could deliver mail faster and more cheaply than the Postal Service; and

4. the practice of accepting letters whose postage was to be paid by the recipient. Often, these letters were carried hundreds, and even thousands of miles by the Postal Service and then were simply refused by the addressee and returned to Washington as “undeliverable.” Indeed, in his first annual report to the President (1845) Cave Johnson (Postmaster General, 1845 – 1848), noted the “immense number” of letters sent collect but not paid for by the addressee. He stated that “the service is performed in the transmission, and should be paid for at the time, and by the person seeking the aid of the department.”

Reform was needed – desperately needed!

And reform came – beginning with the Postal Act of 1845. That Act of Congress dramatically lowered postage rates and established a consistent, weight-based system that was easy to understand and administer (5¢ per ½ ounce for letters traveling up to 300 miles, and 10¢ per ½ ounce for letters traveling beyond 300 miles). The Act also restricted the free franking privilege and it outlawed “private express companies,” which effectively eliminated competition from independent posts.

The most important factor of reform, however – the factor that would finally alleviate the distress of Postmaster General Johnson, and others, regarding the financial drain of unpaid “collect” letters – had to wait until 1847 when Congress authorized the printing and distribution of adhesive postage stamps in the basic denominations of 5¢ and 10¢.

Traditional opinion has long held the view that the new stamps were issued as simply a convenience for the public, especially for commercial firms; a way to avoid standing in line to prepay postage on letters, and even allowing deposit of those pre-paid letters at the Post Office after normal business hours. While the stamps were, indeed, widely used for the basic purpose of prepaying postage, this paper hypothesizes that the most important benefit of the new adhesives could only be determined after the fact.

Using examples shown in the multi-frame exhibit which accompanies this paper, we will review every basic area of postal use and service, and will show that during its 4 years of currency, the actual usage pattern of the ‘47 issue demonstrated that adhesive-stamped mail could do everything, go everywhere, and receive every service that stampless mail received. In other words, adhesives showed there was no cultural, logistical or operational reason why the stampless system was necessary any longer.
The system could be changed, and changing the system would eliminate the extra handling and lost revenues associated with unpaid “collect letters” - the major component of recurring U.S. postal deficits. 
That ability to completely change the system - not merely to provide a “public convenience” was, without question, the most important benefit of the 1847 issue.

 

October 30, 2009, Friday Afternoon (2:00 – 3:30) – Post Office Reformers


"The Sunday Mail Controversy Paves the Way for Postal Reform"  
Diane DeBlois and Robert Dalton Harris

Richard John devoted a chapter in his Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse to what he called “The Invasion of the Sacred” – thoroughly researching the history of what he summarized as the Sabbatarian Movement.

We propose to revisit this movement, with its pro- and anti-Sunday Mail factions, to re-imagine it as an introduction to Postal Reform.

We will look at the parallels in the structure of persuasion used by both the Sunday Mail petitioners and the Postal Reformers: the former groups, beginning early in the 19th century, taking first and thorough advantage of blanketing the country with printed pamphlets and periodicals (largely sent through the mails) and of petitioning Congress with a blizzard of signatures. Other reform groups of mid-19th century went on to use these tactics to agitate for temperance, abolition, universal suffrage, and postal reform. A central piece in our argument are the two reports on Sunday Mails presented to the Senate by Richard M. Johnson of Kentucky (but written by a postal employee) in 1829 and 1830 – which focused support for the seven day postal system. The printed versions of these reports were numerous (we’ll show about a dozen, including three printed on silk) and long-lived: reprints helped nominate Johnson as a vice-Presidential candidate in 1834, and other versions were published into the postal reform era.

The Sunday Mail controversy publicized an understanding of the post office as a system – at a time when its elasticity was being tested by westward expansion and the development of the railroads. Arguments for the primacy of the system centered on national security, and on the prevention of a speculative interval between public and private information. Moral questions of Sabbath observance remained matters for the separate States to decide, and, as a result of the economics of mail contracts and a pragmatic sensibility to local conditions, de facto Sunday-free mails would obtain in many communities. But the mail system would remain free of such moral considerations and, by law (reinforced in 1810), retain the right to a seven-day week schedule.

The general argument for the acceptance of the post office as a system that could accommodate changes in geography and changes in the technologies of transportation underpinned the argument for postal reform: the United States mails could handle greater volume at less cost.

 

"'The Undersigned, Citizens of the United States, respectfully represent that . . .' -Putting a Human Face on Post Office Reform"
David L. Straight

During the 1840s and 1850s, Post Office reform in the United States focused primarily on “Cheap Postage” – a cluster of issues centered on lower postage rates, abolition of the franking privilege, and the use of postage stamps. Like many of the antebellum social reform movements, the campaign for “Cheap Postage” was waged with the pen, the pamphlet, the public meeting, and the petition to Congress. 
Its leaders including Barnabas Bates, whose April 30, 1848 petition to Congress began with phrase that is the title of this paper, were generally evangelical, New England, Whigs. No stranger to Post Office reform, Bates had also been a leader of the Sabbatarian movement two decades earlier, that had sought to prevent the opening of Post Offices and transportation of the mails on Sundays. 

While the leaders of the “Cheap Postage” movement can be readily identified from the pamphlets and newspaper articles which they authored, this paper will present a composite biography for the rank and file supporters of the movement. The goals being to examine the sectional distribution of support for “Cheap Postage” and whether the supporters were of the same geographical, social, religious, and economic strata as the leadership. The memorials and petitions, presented to Congress, calling for lower postage rates provide the tools for identifying supporters of the “Cheap Postage” reforms. 

These will be used in two ways. A geographic tabulation of the petitions recorded or reproduced in Congressional Documents (the Serial SetRegister of Debates, andCongressional Globe) provides data regarding support for Post Office reform from various sections of the country. Secondly, the signatures available on some petitions provide names of individuals whose biographical data and occupations will form a composite biography of the supporters. Additionally, the supporters of “Cheap Postage” will compared with the supporters of earlier Post Office reform movements such as Sabbatarianism and the 1830s attempt to abolish postage on newspapers.


"From the Pulpit to the Post: Anti-clericalism and Communication in Orizaba, Mexico, 1857 – 1867"
Rachel A. Moore

In 1855, residents of Orizaba, a burgeoning town between Mexico’s main Atlantic port of Veracruz and the national capital, saw the urban geography of their town change.  In the first half of the nineteenth century, the town had been home to so many churches and religious orders that is had been called “one giant convent.”  However, after the passage of laws that forced the Catholic Church to sell off all property and allowed the government to seize Church holdings, new uses were found for the forcibly vacated religious buildings.  In the town of Orizaba, what had been the oratory of the religious order of San Felipe Neri was now occupied by Orizaba’s new post office. 

The superimposing of a secular means of diffusing information over a religious one reflects the unique evolution of individuals’ relationships with the postal service in Mexico.  This paper will examine the ways in which the people of Orizaba and the larger state of Veracruz filled what one Orizaba newspaper called “the vacuum left by the exit of the religious communities” with increasing demands for a more comprehensive postal system.   In addition, the ambiguous bureaucratic territory that postmasters occupied during this turbulent period in Mexican history will be examined.

The history of the postal system in Mexico has direct relevance to its counterpart in the United States not only because of the proximity of the two nations but also because the increasing frequency of their interactions in the nineteenth century.  The Mexican-American War (1846-48) brought to the fore the importance of postmasters in both Mexico and the United in controlling the flow of information north and south.  This conflict also showcased the fundamentally different environments in which each postal service operated. 

In his recent study The Postal Age,David Henkin examined the growing “mass participation” in the postal system in the United States during the nineteenth century as a result of improvements in print technology, literacy and transportation.  While several institutional histories of the postal system in Mexico have been written, no studies of individuals’ interactions with the mail have been done.  This paper, part of a larger study on postmasters and postal usage in Mexico, addresses similar themes with substantially different conclusions. Anticlericalism is an important additional factor that must be considered in studying the development of the postal system in any country in which the church played a central role in information diffusion. 

 

October 30, 2009, Friday Evening – Keynote address


"The Political Economy of Postal Reform in the Victorian Age"
Richard John

 

October 31, 2009, Saturday Morning (9:30 – 10:30) – Reform Icons and Collectibles


"Icons of Reform, Postal and Otherwise"
Michael Laurence

The brief lifetime of the United States 1869 stamps concluded a revolution in global transportation and communication, quite literally a sea-change. Thinkers of the day were well aware of the significance of this revolution, and this awareness contributed to the selection, as designs for the 1869 stamps, iconic images of postal reform. In fact, the 1869 stamp designs in important instances picked up images that had been associated with postal reform as early as the 1840s, based on a philosophical underpinning that had its roots in the previous century.

In the 18th century, David Hume and other writers of the Scottish enlightenment began to promote the virtue of commerce as a civilizing agent and an engine of economic growth. InWealth of Nations in 1776, Adam Smith firmly established the case that commercial freedom was the surest route to material progress. The notion that global harmony would result from trade, boosted by cheap communication, was put forward by Immanuel Kant in Perpetual Peace in 1798.

These ideas had to simmer during the Napoleonic Wars, but in the quiet aftermath of the Peace of Paris it was a short step to argue, as the Victorian free-traders and postal reformers did, that global free trade, in a vast single market supported by cheap communication, would lead inevitably to universal brotherhood and world peace.

In the revolutionary 1840s, many propagandists made this case explicitly. The envelope was just coming into use as a form of postal packaging. Activists of the day, notable among them Elihu Burritt, took quick advantage of this novelty.

In After Tamerlane, a thoughtful and provocative book published in 2006, historian John Darwin puts it this way:  “The idea of free trade and the open economy was adopted in Britain in the 1840s and 1850s not just as a policy but as a total world-view, an ideology promoted with crusading passion. It imagined a world in which peoples would be freed from their bondage to rulers by the flood-tide of commerce. Individual freedom and international trade would move forward together. Free trade was regarded as the key to British economic success, and to the economic progress of the rest of the world.” (page 335).

In fact, and this is the essence of Darwin’s thesis in After Tamerlane: free trade was so essential to human improvement that it could be imposed by force where necessary—as was done in east Asia, specifically India and China, during this era.

The brief lifetime of the 1869 stamps coincided with a revolution in global transportation and communication, quite literally a sea-change.

Spurred in part by intensified competition along the transatlantic shipping lanes, foreign trade revived at the conclusion of the American Civil War. Advances in engine design, propulsion systems and hull architecture drastically reduced  ocean transport costs. Lower sea-post charges, greater efficiencies in land transportation and a growing international acceptance of the liberal principles of postal reform combined to create a steady diminishment in international postal rates. Nowhere is this more evident than in correspondence between the United States and Great Britain.

On January 1, 1868, the cost of sending a letter from the U.S. to England, which had been 24¢ since 1849, was cut in half, to 12¢ per half ounce. This 12¢ rate was in effect when the 1869 stamps began to appear in the spring of 1869. On the first day of 1870, when the stamps were at the peak of their use, the rate to England was cut in half again, from 12¢ to 6¢. This amounts to a fourfold price reduction in just two years. It’s as if Moore’s Law was working on international postal rates.

Similar cutbacks rolled through the postal treaties the U.S. negotiated with other European nations during this era. In addition to fostering trade and stimulating correspondence, rapid rate reductions produced a number of short-lived postal rates from the U.S. to various foreign destinations. They are the main reason why the 1869 stamps, despite their very brief on-sale period, can reflect such a rich and varied panorama of postal history.

While these advances were playing out in the manner in which mail was transported, similarly dramatic changes occurred in the routes over which mail could be carried. Commencing in the late 1860s, steam service across the Pacific linked the American and British overseas mail services at Hong Kong. This established a worldwide transportation network that changed the flow of international correspondence, hastened the arrival of Universal Postal Union and positioned the United States as a Pacific power. The last links in the chain came together very quickly. Regular transpacific steam service commenced in August, 1868. The U.S. transcontinental railroad was completed the following May and the Suez Canal opened in November.

The connection of the U.S. transcontinental railroad, on 10 May 1869, brought the two American coasts just six days apart. Correspondence between the Orient and western Europe, which had earlier traveled westbound through the Mediterranean, could now be sent eastbound, sometimes quicker and always cheaper, across the United States. Almost simultaneously, the opening of the Suez Canal in late 1869 cut weeks off the sea route to India, speeding the eastbound transit of passengers and mail, and (here paraphrasing Darwin) breaking down the barrier (as much psychological as physical) that once seemed to separate Europe from what was known then as “the far east.” Looking backward at the end of the century, Joseph Conrad (The End of the Tether, London, 1902, pg. 168) observed that “The piercing of the Isthumus of Suez, like the breaking of a dam, let in upon the east a flood of new ships, new men, new methods of trade.”

Like the moon landing a century later, the transportation revolution of 1869 was immediately recognized, worldwide, as a transformative event in the epic of mankind. Walt Whitman celebrated it in a long poem, Passage to India, written in 1870, published in 1871 and subsequently included in Leaves of Grass. Jules Verne etched the transportation revolution into popular culture with the publication in 1873 of Around the World in Eighty Days. First published in French, the book was a huge bestseller, immediately translated into English and many other languages.

 

“'Why is a Raven like a Writing Desk?' - Post Office Reform, Collectible Commodities and Victorian Culture"  
Catherine J. Golden

Although he is best known as the creator of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), Lewis Carroll (Charles Dodgson) immersed himself in the world of letter writing and postal ephemera.  He was an avid letter writer as well as author of Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing and creator of a postage stamp case. His fascination with letter writing culture allowed his Mad Hatter to stump an already befuddled Alice with the riddle, “‘Why is a raven like a writing desk?’” Although ravens were denizens of the Tower of London long before the birth of the Penny Black, we can trace the rise of stamp cases, letter writing manuals, writing desks, and various other postal products to the historical moment in Victorian Britain when the Penny Post and the prepaid adhesive postage stamp were born (1839-40).  The transformation of the post from an expensive tax for revenue to an affordable civic initiative led to an unprecedented boom in letter writing:  the Penny Post became a vehicle for education, commerce, kinship, and friendship.  The dramatic decrease in postage led to an increase in letters of business, education, condolence, congratulations, and friendship, fostering community and consumerism and giving rise to postal products demanded by and created for women and men of the middle and upper classes.  This talk will focus on the accompanying rise of three highly collectible commodities that help us reconstruct the Victorian way of life:  the writing desk, the pictorial envelope, and the valentine. 

Over two decades ago, Asa Briggs established the importance of commodities to learn about nineteenth-century culture and society in the now seminal Victorian Things (1988). Briggs called attention to the “things” Victorians “designed, named, made, advertised, bought and sold, listed, counted, collected, gave to others, threw away, or bequeathed” (12).  Did the Victorians anticipate that in passing Uniform Penny Postage, they would foster a new field of industry?  Pictorial envelopes, pens, inkwells, stamp boxes, letter holders, wafers and seals, letter clips, etiquette books, and portable writing desks—many of which are featured in the Great Exhibition catalogue of 1851—present the post as a growing commercial enterprise These cultural objects have their own histories and tell us what the Victorians treasured, commemorated, valued, and debated. 

From this array of materials, three examples of highly collectible Victorian postal products are, to recall Briggs’s term, “emissaries” (11) of meaning and sentiment, transmitting information about, for example, identity, Empire, aesthetics, gender, and social class.  The writing desk, which might aptly be called the Victorian laptop, teaches us about privacy, portability, aesthetics, social class, and gender.  With the rise of the postage stamp came a surge in envelope production; a ready means of advertising and propaganda, pictorial envelopes record and recall pressing social and political reforms, as well as daily activities of Victorian life.  The valentine, a type of correspondence that greatly increased following 1840, offers insight into Victorian conceptions of love, national identity, and humor.

 

October 31, 2009, Saturday Afternoon (2:00 – 3:30) – Reform Continues


"Two Philadelphia Eagle Carrier Cancellations Discoveries and a New Theory" [Paper]
Vernon Morris

 

"Postal Reform and Postal Income"  
Terence Hines

The mid 19th Century was a time of important postal reform in the United States. The first postage stamp was issued in 1847. Prepayment of postage became mandatory in 1855.What effects did these sorts of reforms have on postal revenue? And if there were any effects, were they distributed differently in smaller and larger post offices? These issues will be investigated by turning to data from the “Official Register of the United States”. This is a book, published every two years starting in 1816 until the early 20th Century, listed to salaries of every government employee. Postmasters were included. Postmasters’ salaries were a function of the amount of business the individual post office did. Thus, knowing the salary of a postmaster for a given year and the pay scale at the time allows one to calculate the dollar value of business done at that post office in that year. It has been previously shown (Hines, 2006) that Official Register data is a valuable source of information on local economic activity. Statistical analyses of Official Register data will address the issue of changes in postal business as a function of the reforms noted above.

Hines, T. (2006). Presentation at the First Annual Blount Postal History Symposium, Washington, DC.

 

"The 1895 Provisional and Bisect Postage Due Stamps: A Result of the Transfer of the Stamp Production to BEP"  
Harry Charles

There was a rash of provisional and bisect postage due stamps used in 1895.  As is well documented in the case of the Jefferson, Iowa bisects [1], the bisects were created due to a shortage of 1-cent postage due stamps.  In other instances, both the 1-cent and 2-cent postage due stamps seemed to be in short supply.  Could these shortages have resulted from the 1893-1894 transfer of postage stamp production from the American Bank Note Company (ABNCo) to the Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP)?  In an article by Noll [2], the controversy over awarding the stamp production contract to the BEP rather than the ABNCo was well described.  In his article Noll states, “And instead of accepting the offer of the established bank note printers, the Post Office Department accepted a bid from a printing establishment with almost no experience in postage stamp production and none of the rare but requisite gumming machines: the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing...”.  This leads one to believe that the BEP might have had trouble getting into full production, thus leading to stamp shortages or inefficiencies in stamp distribution.  Prior to the awarding of the stamp production contract to the BEP, the ABNCo was responsible for filling stamp orders and keeping the postmasters well supplied.

This article traces the start-up of postage due stamp production at the BEP.  It examines the supply of ABNCo printed postage dues (the large numeral dues) on-hand and the projected demand for postage due stamps during the 1894-95 time frame based on prior historical usage records.  It will be seen that postage due demand varied greatly with denomination, causing some values to be in short supply while others were in abundance.  After establishing the plausibility for shortage, this article will focus on the local postmasters approach to solving such shortages.  In particular, the 1-cent and 2-cent Detroit provisionals will be discussed and illustrated on cover.  Also, other known provisionals used during the 1895 period will be listed.

The discussion on bisects will center on the known usages of the Jefferson, Iowa bisects of October 1895.  Thirteen examples of this bisect will be identified ranging from the three in the Miller collection at the Smithsonian to the two in the author’s possession.  A complete listing of all the known bisects in the 1894-95 period also will be presented.

[1]  R. Trepel with K Lawrence, Rarity Revealed:  The Benjamin K. Miller Collection.  Co-Published by the Smithsonian and the New York Public Library, 2006, p. 162

[2] Noll, Frank, “Postage and Progressivism:  Political Ideology and the Start of Postage Stamp Production at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing 1893-1894” Winton M. Blount Symposium on Postal History, November 3-4, 2006, pp. 1-26. http://www.postalmuseum.si.edu/symposium2006/papers/Noll.PDF

 

November 1, 2009,  Morning (9:30 – 10:30) – Finishing the Job


"Post Office Reform on the Move: The San Antonio and San Diego Mail Route, 1857 – 1861"
Robert G. Cullen

In keeping with this year’s theme of post office reform, I propose in my paper to examine how surface transportation facilitated the widespread embrace of U.S. adhesive-stamped mail. 

“When U.S. postage stamps were first issued in 1847, they held the promise that the entire country could be united by mail for no more than 10¢ per letter,” notes Daniel Piazza, the National Postal Museum’s Assistant Curator of Philately.  “However, there were no transcontinental mail routes; all letters between the east and west coasts had to be carried by ocean-going clipper ships.”

The extensive use of stamps for long-distance mail, in other words, was basically an unfulfilled promise unless and until viable surface transportation postal routes – more dependable and timely than the maritime alternative -- were established to better link the Atlantic with the Pacific.  Those residing in California were especially hard-hit and kept in the dark because of this lack of adequate mail-delivery services.  As the Los Angeles Starlamented in 1853, “Can somebody tell us what has become of the U.S. mail for this section of the world?”

Something clearly had to be done to rectify that situation.  Within the first decade after stamps were introduced in the United States, however, California-bound overland mail routes were patchwork operations that proved to be erratic at best.  Then Congress, in March 1857, enacted an overland mail bill putting the full force of the federal government behind establishing cross-country postal routes.

The first transcontinental postal and passenger line inaugurated under this law was the San Antonio-San Diego Mail Route.  This route took shape on June 22, 1857, when James E. Birch signed a contract with the federal government for a semi-monthly schedule between Texas and California.  Twenty-five coaches were to be used for this first-of-a-kind endeavor.

On July 9 of that year, the route was officially launched in San Antonio with the discharge of a signaling gunshot and the departure of mail- and passengers-carrying Concord stagecoach driven by four horses.  That coach ultimately made its way into San Diego on August 31, greeted with great fanfare from local residents and having covered 1476 miles in the then-unprecedented span of 53 days.

Notwithstanding that strong start, the route soon fell on hard times.  Birch, the enterprise’s father and biggest champion, unexpectedly died that September.  In addition, that operation found itself eclipsed by a larger-scale competitor called Butterfield Overland Mail.  The San Antonio and San Diego Route was also regularly ridiculed as “The Jackass Mail” due to its heavy reliance on mules across the final 180 miles before San Diego.  This is not to say that the route died a quick death, however.  The route lingered on for a couple of more years, with segments of it taken over by Butterfield.  What was left of the once-promising service, known as Mail Route 8067, continued to operate between San Antonio and El Paso until being phased out in the summer of 1861. 

While generally forgotten today, the San Antonio and San Diego Mail Route deserves recognition as a pioneer in overland mail transportation during a crucial period in national development.  The route was also a vital if underappreciated link in further popularizing and making readily accessible the coast-to-coast use of postage stamps.  Those stamps helped shrink the far-flung distances within the nation, and routes like the one connecting San Antonio and San Diego played no small part in allowing that to happen.  That is why this route remains an invaluable case study of post office reform in action.  My paper, above all, else would focus on that legacy.

 

"Household Mail Boxes Revolutionize the Letter Carrier Service"
Clifford J. Alexander

July 1, 1863 marked the end of the carrier fee era.  On that day, the U.S. Post Office ceased charging the public for collection and delivery of mail.  Some might assume that this change revolutionized the PO’s operations.  Far from it.  Except for elimination of separate fees, neither delivery nor collection services were affected.  Carriers continued to deliver mail to addresses in the same manner as before; and they continued to collect mail only from PO boxes located throughout cities, unless it was handed to them while making their rounds.

The 1880s and 1890s witnessed great expansion of PO services.  In addition to extending free delivery to more cities, the PO experimented with use of pneumatic tubes, street cars and mail wagons to assist with the collection and deliver of mail.  One of the most important initiatives – 30 years after free carrier service was introduced – was a program during the tenure of Postmaster General John Wanamaker to encourage city residents to buy and install household mail boxes in exchange for house-to-house collections.

By 1890 the PO faced a number of challenges.  One was space for PO boxes.  For example, there were 10,000 boxes in the New York Post Office, and they were running out of space to meet demands.  Another issue was the time it took carriers to make deliveries.  The PO estimated that on average one fourth of each carrier’s time was spent waiting for residents to come to the door and accept their mail.

In the fall of 1890, the PG appointed a “commission of five of the leading postmasters of the United States” to entertain proposals for a “small, safe, and inexpensive letter box.”  Advertisements were published in major newspapers and inventors were asked to submit models.  The commission initially received 564 models and testimony from 65 persons.

Ultimately, after examining over 1,500 models, the PO concluded that it did not make sense to continue looking for a single, perfect letter box design.  The PO also recognized that households would have to be given some flexibility in order to encourage them to add mail slots or put up boxes.  The PO instead selected three boxes that the commission had determined offered the most advantages and best satisfied the important requirements.

This paper will discuss the challenges faced by the PO while expanding free delivery services after July 1, 1863, the efforts by Wanamaker to add house-to-house service, the process followed by the PO to find the “ideal” letter box and the impact of the new service on the PO and citizens.