Five years after free city delivery began in 1863 the Post Office Department began requiring its letter carriers to wear uniforms while “on duty.” In 1887, carriers were required to wear numbered badges on their hats. By the time Rural Free Delivery became a regular service in 1902, Americans were accustomed to the grey coat and badge uniform of their city carriers. Rural carriers were not required to wear uniforms or badges. That did not stop ambitious companies from trying to gain a foothold in this new market.
The Cincinnati Regalia Company is a long-time supplier of regalia, uniforms and supplies for fraternal societies, civic and local organizations as well as military uniforms. The company was one of several that attempted to exploit the new market of rural letter carriers who had neither official uniforms, nor regulations that they wear such. This advertisement from R.F.D. News shows a city carrier’s uniform hat as well as a whistle. City carriers often had patrons without mailboxes, and had to call them to the door to get the mail by whistle, knocking, or ringing the doorbell. Rural delivery patrons, on the other hand, were required to have mailboxes to receive their mail. Rural carriers had little need for whistles.
Ads, such as this from a 1902 NALC publication The Postal Record show that Fechheimer Brothers Company was a well established name in city letter carrier circles. The difference, of course, between city and rural carriers is that the rural carriers were not required to wear uniforms. This fact made that new market tricky for uniform manufacturers to capture.
Fechheimer Brothers Company originated with Marcus Fechheimer and his brother Abram. The family, originally from Bavaria found its way to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1839. In 1841 Abram partnered with Louis Goldschmidt in a clothing company. Abram was joined by his brother Marcus. By 1855 the pair had parted ways with Goldschmidt, listing themselves as “A. Fechheimer & Brother, Wholesale Clothiers.” Marcus became the main force behind the company, although he did look outside the company for a partner, Benedict Frenkel. From 1868-1883 the company was known as “Fechheimer, Frenkel & Company.” In 1883 Frenkel and Fechheimer parted ways and the firm Fechheimer Brothers & Company was born.
Brothers John E. and Oscar C. Hansen opened the Cream City Hat Company in 1871 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, selling hats and furs. The brothers went their separate ways in 1890 as John opened Hansen’s Empire Fur Factory. Oscar kept the hat business and added gloves to his company’s products. In 1901 he incorporated under the name of O.C. Hansen Manufacturing Company, which was shortened to Hansen Glove Corporation in 1930.
Frank Henderson began making and selling swords and military regalia in 1850 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 1871 he briefly joined with Theron F. Giddings, creating the short-lived Henderson & Giddings Company before returning the company to its original name in 1873. Through the early 1890s Henderson also worked as a sales agent for the Ames Sword Company. He partnered with the Chicago branch of the company, creating the Henderson-Ames Company in 1893. Although Henderson passed away in 1899, his company, then known as Henderson-Ames, continued operations until 1923.
The company manufactured a variety of items, from swords and flags to uniforms and regalia, for secret or fraternal organizations as well as city police and fire departments. The potential market of thousands of new rural clerks who had no official uniform requirement or source was a gold mine market for uniform manufacturers, and Henderson-Ames’ ads appeared frequently in rural postal publications.
U.S. Post Office Department Rural Free Delivery (RFD) tiara-style cap badge, number 5, with attachment holes. This style of identification badge was produced by Heeren Brothers & Co., a jewelry manufacturing and sales company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The company consisted of brothers William, Augustus, Herman, and Otto. The family had emigrated to the U.S. from Prussia. The brothers made and sold jewelry trinkets door to door until they raised enough money to buy a small building. The family business grew into a larger building, located at the corner of Penn Avenue and 8th Street in Pittsburgh. In addition to jewelry, Heenen Brothers produced medallions and a variety of identification badges – most for railway workers.
Jacob Reed’s Sons Company was founded in 1824 by Jacob Reed. By the late 19th century, a bevy of Reed men owned or were working at the firm. In 1887, the city directory listed Alan H. Reed, Edward H. Reed, and George K. Reed as comprising the management of the company. Four years later only Alan and George remained in the directory notice. The men’s clothing store finally went out of business in 1983. Jacob Reed’s Sons was among the manufacturers selected by the Post Office Department to build uniforms for its city carriers.
This advertisement for “uniform caps and helmets for all purposes” showcased headgear for railway employees. George Brunssen began and built his hat business in New York City. After his death in 1896, the company retained his name for a while, but was operated by Herman Julich and Albert Heiland. By 1905 the pair’s names appear alone in advertisements in R.F.D. News.
Percy G. Mayhew’s ad for the Mayhew Waterproof Shoes was based on his own design. He received patent #809,713 for the “waterproof shoe” on January 9, 1906. His patent application notes that he was providing a design “which is simple in construction and which is made of cloth, the pieces being so related that when in operative relation the finished shoe is absolutely waterproof.”
James and William Pettibone operated the Pettibone Brothers Manufacturing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. The brothers produced military and band uniforms, as well as uniforms for letter carriers and a variety of regalia items (swords, buttons etc.). William Pettibone appears to disappear from the company’s information in the early 20th century. James Pettibone held patents for a suitcase (patent #838,353, issued December 11, 1906) and handcuffs (patent #263,212, issued August 22, 1882), and listed himself as a “dressmaker” in the 1900 census.
In an advertisement in The Postal Record, a publication of the National Association of [City] Letter Carriers, Royalton Woolen Company boasted that their “fabrics are used by over three fourths of the letter carriers in the United States for their uniforms.” The company undoubtedly hoped that their expertise and the breadth of their city carrier uniform experience would help influence rural carriers’ minds and convince them to purchase Royalton wool for a uniform.
S.D. Childs & Company of Chicago began as an engraving firm under the ownership of Shubael D. Childs. By 1900 the company was being operated as a stationery and engraving company under the leadership of his widow, Mary, and Jerome A. Smith.
The company originated under the leadership of Samuel Slater. Slater has been called the “father of the American Industrial Revolution” for his influential early work in New England. Slater emigrated to the U.S. from England, having consigned to memory critical components of English manufacturing that the Crown had determined was illegal to export. Slater used that knowledge to build a water-powered cotton mill in Pawtucket, Rhode Island in 1789. By the time of his death in 1835, he owned a dozen textile mills.
After Slater’s death, his sons George B. and Horatio N. ran the company, known now as S. Slater & Sons. When Horatio passed away in 1888 his stepson, Horatio S. Slater, Jr. took over the company. S. Slater & Sons ran few ads in the rural carrier publications. Their ads recommended carriers purchase their “blue goods” cloth for uniform manufacturing.
Austrian born immigrant Adolph L. Singer operated A.L. Singer & Company in Chicago. The tailor firm made uniforms for a variety of uses and as were several other uniform manufacturers, eager to establish a foothold in a potential new, and growing, market.
The South Bend Woolen Mills began operations in 1869 in South Bend, Indiana. The mills provided woolen fabric mostly for men’s clothing. As the ad from R.F.D. News noted, rural carriers could buy the mills’ wool in order to have their own uniforms constructed (either on their own, or by “any reputable uniform maker”).