See vintage mail carriers & post office service carts from 100+ years ago

Postcard of the Milwaukee Mail Car 1907

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For generations, mail carriers and other postal workers have worked day and night to bring us letters, magazines, packages and more.

And not only do they work all year long — no matter the weather — they do it pretty affordably, too. Whether from across town or from thousands of miles away, an envelope can be delivered to someone’s mailbox just for the cost of a postage stamp.

Of course, a century ago, mail carriers didn’t have little Jeeps or other modern vehicles to help get them around. Instead, they relied on bicycles and bags, carts and carriages to help get the job done.

Here’s a look at some real postal service history: how mail carriers (especially “mailmen”) used to deliver along their routes, along with close-up photos of a few of the vintage pins and badges postal employees once wore to identify themselves.

“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

– The unofficial United States Postal Service mission/motto, originally from Book 8 of The Persian Wars by Herodotus (430 BCE)

Letter carrier collecting mail for USPS (1890)

Letter Carrier Collecting Mail 1890 USPS

Postal service history: City collection wagon in Chicago (1890)

City Collection Wagon Chicago 1890 - Postal service

Letter Carrier delivering mail by bicycle (1890)

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Letter Carrier Delivering Mail by Bicycle 1890

Postal service history: Regulation Mail Wagon in San Francisco (1895)

Regulation Mail Wagon San Francisco 1895

Mail Streetcar for USPS in St. Louis, Missouri (1896)

St. Louis, Missouri Mail Streetcar USPS 1896

1800s mail carriers walking on the streets of New York (1896)

Mail carriers walking on the streets of New York (1896)

Mail carriers walking on the streets of New York (1896)

Mail carriers walking on the streets of New York (1896)

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Vintage mail carriers: U.S. Railway Mail Service (1896)

U.S. Railway Mail Service 1896

City mail wagon – USPS (1905)

City mail wagon - USPS 1905

USPS Rural Carrier with horse and wagon (1905)

USPS Rural Carrier with Horse and Wagon 1905

Vintage mail carriers and old post office collection wagons (1905)

Mail Collection Wagons 1905

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“Rural Free Delivery” Carrier in Greenfield, Indiana (1905)

Rural Free Delivery Carrier in Greenfield, Indiana 1905

Postal service history: Columbia Mark 3 Mail Truck in Baltimore, Maryland (1906)

Columbia Mark 3 Mail Truck Baltimore Maryland 1906

Letter Carrier delivering mail –  colorized photo (1908)

Letter Carrier delivering mail - US postal service (1908)

Three-wheeled Mail Collection Motorcycle in Washington DC (1912)

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Three-wheeled Mail Collection Motorcycle Washington DC 1912

Uniformed letter carrier with child in mailbag (1913)

Excerpted from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) March 16, 1913

The first Postal employee who accepted and delivered a baby was Vernon O Lyttle, mail carrier on Rural Route No. 5, out of Batavia, O[hio].

The baby was a boy weighing 10-3/4 pounds, just inside the maximum weight limit of 11 pounds.

Its parents, Jesse Beagle and his wife, who live near the village of Glendale, properly packed and stamped the infant for delivery to its grandmother, Mrs. Louis Beagle, living on Route No. 5.

Carrier Lyttle insured the child for $50, the maximum insurance rate for parcels. The postage paid was 15 cents. The precious package was delivered safely…

Unknown to the rural carrier in Ohio, Postmaster General Hitchcock already had made a ruling against the posting of babies on the ground that they are animals.

MORE: See how different antique baby carriages & old-fashioned strollers used to be

Uniformed Letter Carrier with Child in Mailbag 1913
People and the Post, Postal History from the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum

Vintage mail carriers with a parcel Post Wagon in New Bedford, Massachusetts (1913)

Parcel Post Wagon in New Bedford, Massachusetts (1913)

The old-fashioned mail carrier rules: Star Route Box Delivery (1902)

The Junction City Sentinel (Junction City, Kansas) July 4, 1902

Notice is hereby given to the public that the contract in effect July 1, 1902, for the performance of mail service on the star routes in the States and Territories hereinafter named provide that, in addition to carrying the mails to the various post offices, the carrier will be required to deliver mail into all boxes or hang small bags or satchels containing mail on cranes or posts that may be erected along the line of the route, under the following regulations of the Department:

Vintage post office badges - US Head Mail Clerk and New York Roundsman
Vintage post office badges – US Head Mail Clerk and New York Roundsman, courtesy Smithsonian

Any person living on or near the route and not within the corporate limits of any town or within 80 roads of any post office, who desires his mail deposited at a given point on the line of the route by the carrier may provide and erect a suitable box or crane on the roads, located in such a manner as to be reached as conveniently as practicable by the carrier without dismounting from the vehicle or horse, and such person shall file with the postmaster at the post office to which his mail is addressed (which shall be one of the two post office on the route on either side of and next to the box or crane) a request in writing for the delivery of his mail to the carrier for deposit at the designated point, at the risk of the addressed. 

It shall be the duty of every postmaster, upon a written order from any person living on or near the route, to deliver to the mail carrier for that route any mail matter — placing in the respective satchels, where such are used, the mail for the persons to whom such satchels belong — with instructions into the proper mail box or crane at which said mail matter shall be deposited; but registered mail shall not be so delivered unless expressly requested by the addressee in his written order.

No mail matter so delivered to the carrier shall be carried past another post office on the route before being deposited into a mail box or hung on a crane or post.

Antique postal worker badges - Rural free delivery and US Mail Boston
Antique postal worker badges – Rural free delivery and US Mail Boston

The carrier on the route will be required to receive from any post-master on the route any mail matter or private mail satchel that may be entrusted to him outside of the usual mail bag, and shall carry such mail matter or private mail satchel to and deposit it into the proper mail box or hang it on the proper mail crane placed on the line of the route for this purpose; by the carrier to be without charge to the addressees. 

The mail carrier must be of a good character and of sufficient intelligence to properly handle and deposit the mail along the route.

The Department does not prescribe any particular design of box or satchel to be used for this service but the person providing either should see that it is of such character as to afford ample protection to his mail. If there is a lock attached to the box, the key is not to be held by the carrier, as he is expected to deposit the mail without the necessity of unlocking the box. The box or crane should be located on the road side that the carrier can deposit the mail without leaving his vehicle or horse, and yet not where it will obstruct public travel.

Postal service history: Antique USPS postal service badges and pins
Antique USPS postal service badges and pins

The carrier is not required to collect mail from the boxes, but there is no objection to his doing so if it does not interfere with his making schedule time. The law provides the carrier of the mail shall receive any mail matter presented to him if properly prepaid by stamps and delivered for mailing at the next post office at which he arrives, but no fee shall be allowed him therefor.

The box delivery above described is required by the contracts effective July 1, 1903, on all the star routes (with but few exceptions) in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Indian Territory, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South and North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Alaska, and Hawaii.

W.S. Shallenberger (Second Assistant Postmaster General)

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