The history of civilization is the history of the struggle for human rights. Basic in this struggle is free communication on equal conditions. Progress in the facilities for such communication has made the United States postal service a democratic institution.
—Daniel C. Roper, First Assistant Postmaster General, 1917
In some big cities, city post offices were designed as factories behind an elegant façade. Inside, buckets and conveyor belts moved the mail through the system. Canceling machines marked the postage stamps.
Automobiles joined ships, trains, streetcars, and pneumatic tubes as machines that moved the mail. As the machinery of the postal system changed, it still connected families and businesses around the world.
Throwing Mail Into Bags
Postal workers sorted some mail by tossing it into bags. This short, 57-second, silent video was produced by the "American Mutoscope & Biograph Company" in 1903. Notice the stage backdrop painted to resemble the interior of a post office.
From the battlefield in France to Linwood, Maryland
An American soldier writes a postcard home, reassuring his family that he’s surviving in France, and takes it to the American Expeditionary Force post office.
A U.S. Post Office worker drives the military mail to the port in France before being placed on board a ship bound for New York City where it arrives a week later. At the New York City post office, the postcard is dropped into a pouch for Maryland.
A wagon carries the pouch to Pennsylvania Station and it’s placed on the Railway Post Office car in the southbound New York and Washington train. The postcard is sorted en route into a pouch for the Baltimore and Cumberland RPO car, and transferred in Baltimore.
In the Baltimore and Cumberland RPO, the postcard is sorted again into a pouch for Linwood. As the train passes Linwood, the pouch is thrown from the car, and a mail messenger picks it up and carries it to the Linwood post office.
Sorted by hand in the post office, the soldier’s postcard is taken on a Rural Free Delivery route and dropped in an RFD box where his family picks it up.