A variety of companies pounced on the opportunities they saw in the new Rural Free Delivery service. Carriers across the nation had daily contact with individuals and families who before were only reachable when they went into their local towns. Companies offered carriers money or goods in trade for information and addresses of this new market.
Rural road quality was critical to the Post Office Department. Officials could refuse to establish rural delivery service in areas where roads were poorly built or maintained. The Austin-Western Company was one of a number of construction companies that looked to rural postmasters and carriers to point out prospective jobs.
Niehans sold artificial limbs in Chicago in the 1890s. He advertised in rural postal publications for carriers or postmasters to notify him of people in their area who needed artificial limbs.
The Brilliant Gas Lamp Company of Chicago, Illinois, was among those who hoped to expand their market through rural postmasters and carriers. As the ad states, “For the purpose of introducing our Brilliant Gas Lamp in every part of the United States and realizing that Rural Carriers are people well known in their communities, we are making an extraordinary discount to R.F.D. Carriers. We have found that the first sale in a community always brings several more.”
The Chicago Telephone Supply Company was one of several organizations that advertised in RFD News for information in exchange for payment (or in this ad from 1904, a free safety razor). The company, which began in 1896, relied on the burgeoning rural telephone market for its early growth and recognized the advantages of partnering with rural carriers to gain valuable information about the new market.
Even after carriers were restricted to working only with the mail during their work hours, companies advertised items that carriers could use in off-hours to make money. In this instance, the Chicago Flexible Shaft Company purchased advertisements in a 1912 issue of RFD News to remind carriers that clipping horses was a good way to make extra money. Of course, once carriers had finished the day’s route and work, there were no restrictions on their time. The popularity of horse clipping advertisements in several issues of RFD News suggests that a number of carriers took advantage of this idea. The company was founded by John K. Stewart and Thomas J. Clark, sellers of mechanical horse clippers. In the early 20th century it became a subsidiary of the British firm, Wm. Cooper & Nephews, and expanded to manufacture electrical irons, coffeemakers, and toasters. In 1946 the company became the Sunbeam Corporation.
Aaron Montgomery Ward created the first mail-order business in 1872 by mailing prospective customers a sheet of paper listing a variety of items that could be ordered by mail. Finding new customers is critical to any growing business. In the early years of rural delivery Montgomery Ward advertised for carriers and postmasters to help identify potential customers and deliver catalogs. At first the Post Office Department did not mind that carriers found ways to supplement their income during work hours. But when it was obvious that the extra jobs were interfering with mail delivery speeds, employees were put on notice to focus only on mail delivery during work hours. In this most unusual notice, Montgomery Ward apologizes for continuing to ask carriers to work with the company after the Department forbade such connections.
The Sure Hatch Incubator Company of Indianapolis, Indiana, hoped that rural carriers would help sell their chicken egg incubators and brooders. In this “special proposition to R.F.D. carriers” advertisement, the company boasts that their proposition was not against postal regulations. But by 1905, when this advertisement appeared, postal officials were already cracking down on their rural carriers’ extra jobs.
Superior Manufacturing Company was created by Halstead Harley Seeley and his brothers Dana and Roy. The brothers manufactured and sold lamps for indoor and outdoor use. They advertised in RFD News for rural carriers to serve as agents for their products.