The post office makes headlines occasionally for changing its services — like doing away with Saturday mail service — but it helps to put modern changes into perspective by looking back at what the postal service used to be like. Here are some of the service's more eclectic modes of delivery.
In the image above, a rural postal worker in a carriage transfers letters and packages to another worker's saddlebags in July 1940 near the foothills of the mountain city of Morehead, Kentucky. The worker on horseback would then take the mail further up the mountain where wagons and cars are unable to access.
Although this kind of mail delivery isn't something most people see every day, there are still two places in the U.S. that depend on this uniquely equine method: The Havasupai Indian Reservation's capitol city of Supai, Arizona and Phantom Ranch, a resort village nestled within the Grand Canyon.
A postal worker sits in a WestCoaster Mailster, a peculiar three-wheeled vehicle used in the 1950s and 1960s to meet the demand of the ever-increasing amounts of mail being delivered to American households after the end of World War II.
Although the Mailster worked well in temperate climates and along even terrain, as little as 3 inches of snow could immobilize the vehicle. Additionally, it was especially prone to tipping over when hit by strong gusts, making sharp turns or, in the case of one unlucky carrier, encountering massive dogs.
A postal worker poses for a photograph with a young boy in his mailbag. Following the creation of the parcel post service in 1913, at least two children really were sent through the service before the postmaster general found out and quickly issued a regulation forbidding the practice. A blog post from the Smithsonian National Postal Museum sums up the story well:
On February 19, 1914, May Pierstorff, just short of her 6th birthday, was “mailed” from her parents’ home in Grangeville, Idaho to her grandparents’ house about 73 miles away for just 53-cents worth of stamps. May’s parents were taking advantage of parcel post service, which began just the year before. In the early years of this service, customers and postal officials were still getting used to how the service could be used. But mailing children?
Amazingly enough May wasn’t the only child entrusted to parcel post service. But before images of babies bouncing around in mailbags start appearing in your head, the children whose families entrusted them to the Post Office Department were “mailed” by traveling with trusted postal workers (in May’s case, a relative who worked on the Railway Mail trains).
Rural mail delivery
A rural postal worker delivers mail to remote mountain families in July 1940 near Jackson, Kentucky.
Mountains can't stop this mail carrier
A mountaineer receives mail from a postal worker on horseback in August 1940 near the South Fork of the Kentucky River in Jackson, Kentucky.