Take a look back to the United States Postal Service’s glory days at the turn of the 20th century — when the post office buildings were stunning, stately and stylish, and a pride of every city’s downtown.
We rediscovered 25 examples of classic USPS architecture, plus found a few notes on how the postal service in the olden days was big, big business.
St Paul, Minnesota old post office (1905)
The old Post Office, Minneapolis, Minnesota (1900s)
Duluth, Minnesota – post office (1900s)
Chicago post office (1906)
A look back at how old post offices used to work, from 1901
Excerpted from Kellogg’s Wichita Record (Wichita, Kansas) December 7, 1901
CHICAGO, ILL. — The Chicago post office is enjoying a period of unprecedented prosperity. This is largely due to the increased money order business, the volume of which far exceeds that which has come to the Chicago post office in past years.
So far, for the present calendar year, the increase of money order business has amounted monthly to 20 percent over the corresponding months of last year. Other business of the post office has increased about in the same proportion.
The post office officials have been hampered sadly because the space in the old post office building on the lakefront is insufficient, as well as for the reason that there are not enough employees properly to take care of the overwhelming influx of business.
In a word, Postmaster Coyne and his 4,000 assistants are having a tough battle to keep from being snowed under with epistles that Chicagoans and their correspondents are writing, and at the same time to keep the current of the new deluge of money order business free from obstruction.
The worst feature of the matter is the outlook ahead. If Chicago’s mail business continues to increase at the present ratio, even the mammoth new post office building, occupying an entire block, will be outgrown by the time it is ready for occupancy. Postmaster Coyne is credited with the statement that the new building is even now too small to be the home of the Chicago branch of the federal post office. (Article continued below)
The New Post Office, Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1901)
Post office, Detroit, Michigan(1900s)
Old Post Office in Port Huron, Mich
Post office – Saginaw, Michigan (1900-1920)
Buffalo, New York post office (1900-1906)
City Hall Station Post Office, New York, NY
Post Office, New York City
OId US Post office, Troy, N.Y.
Old post office building in Albany, New York (1900s)
Pittsburg, Pennsylvania’s post office (1900-1920)
Post office building, Scranton, Pennsylvania
Chestnut Street and post office, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Baltimore, Maryland post office (1903)
Post office – Boston, Massachusetts (1900)
Post office building – Cleveland, Ohio
Post office – Toledo, Ohio (1900s)
The old oost office building in Louisville, Kentucky
Post office – Augusta, Georgia (1900s)
Custom House and Post Office, Memphis, Tennessee
Post office – Montgomery, Alabama (1900s)
Post office building with clocktower in Birmingham, Alabama
About the post office business in 1901 (continued)
Some big figures
In the Chicago post office, the stamps of 1,000,000 letters are canceled each day. The statement which should follow next after this in point of being remarkable is the fact that not less than 40 percent of these letters are either incorrectly or inadequately addressed.
Four hundred thousand carelessly addressed letters every day! Figures like this indicate that post office employees have enough to do to keep them out of mischief.
In this connection it should be said that the clerks whose business it is to “throw” letters make one error to each 16,500 pieces handled; so it may readily be seen that the post office is responsible for only 67 mistakes to every 1,000,000 pieces of mail handled.
The amount of second-class matter — magazines, periodicals, etc. — daily handled at the Chicago post office is 90 tons; and of third and fourth-class matter 60 tons. The bulk of the latter is the merchandise mailed to customers by the big mail order houses.
These great houses are also responsible for much of the increase in money order business. This may readily be seen by the fact that these houses send out to their customers each year 2,000,000 blank money orders with instructions that all remittances should be sent in this way.
In former years, these houses suggested in their catalogs a number of ways by which money could be safely sent, almost invariably ending the list with “post office money order.” Now they insist that they do not wish to receive money any other way than by post office order.
The value of a post office order is very apparent when it is considered that your Uncle Sam always takes the trouble to hunt you up and make you take your money, if he has any for you and you don’t go after it. Private companies do not always take this trouble.
The second in size
The Chicago post office is second only to that of New York in the volume of business done, and unless New York looks well to her laurels, the time will come when Chicago will surpass her in this field.
The aggregate business of the New York post office last year was $9,500,000, and that of Chicago was $7,500,000. Philadelphia comes third with only 3.3 million.
Some very interesting comparisons may be made ‘by putting side by side’ the figures denoting the volume of business transacted by the various post offices last year. First, however, it should be understood that Chicago has 441 carrier stations, each of which is a post office in itself.
Next after the Philadelphia post office comes Boston, and then St. Louis. The volume of business done by the St. Louis post office is greater than that of Brooklyn, Cincinnati, Baltimore or San Francisco.
After San Francisco comes Pittsburg and Cleveland and then the Chicago board of trade station. This has already been accounted for, of course, in speaking of Chicago as a whole; but it is introduced here simply for the purpose of comparison.
The volume of business done by the Kansas City post office exceeds that of Washington or Minneapolis. The Monadnock station in Chicago did $650,000 worth of business last year, which placed that branch ahead of the post office at Milwaukee.
The postmaster at Milwaukee receives a salary of $6,000 a year. Reckoning upon the basis of the amount of business transacted, Chicago should have, at this rate, 12 postmasters, each drawing a salary of $6,000. The Chicago postmaster, however, receives also $6,000 yearly for his services. He has, on the other hand, many assistants to take the burden of the work from his own shoulders.
There are 190 square miles of territory in Chicago where free mail delivery service is in force. To carry mail to the inhabitants of this territory requires 1,385 carriers, 13 streetcars and 125 special messenger boys.
In the downtown districts, 26 collections are made every day, and in the inlying residence districts, the number of collections is 16. In no place where the service is in force, no matter how remote, are there fewer than three mail collections daily.
It is a rule of the post office that only those districts are entitled to the mail delivery service in which there are sidewalks, street lamps and numbers on the houses. As a matter of fact, however, letter carriers deliver letters where none of these requisites are to be found.
In certain outlying districts, postmen have tramped through fields of corn to reach the houses of the persons for whom they have had mail — all of this within the limits of the great city of Chicago.
The letter carriers
It is not infrequent, in the Chicago downtown districts, that a letter carrier’s route is confined to a single building, and that the mail to be delivered is even then very often so enormous in quantity that two or more carriers are kept constantly busy attending to its distribution, which must be done with as much promptness as possible.
For example, within the walls of the Monadnock building — under whose roof may be found every day 6,000 persons who belong to the business life of the building, and who go to make up, by themselves, one of the greatest and most compact office communities in existence — is confined one of the most tiresome mail routes in the city
One need not go beyond this building for evidence that a letter carrier does not lack for employment, though his route be within four walls, and in spite of the fact that elevators are ever at his service. The building is one block long, but it is a comparatively narrow structure. Upon each of its 16 floors, there are two long rows of offices running the entire length of the building.
The average carrier starts upon his route with about 17 pounds of mail. This means that he will deliver about 850 letters, for it is calculated that there are 50 letters to the pound.
The Christmas season is the most trying time of the year for all of Uncle Sam’s employees who are connected with the post office force. At this time, however, the revenue from every department is very greatly increased.
It is believed that, during the coming month of December, the money order division of the Chicago post office will be called upon to attend to no fewer than 25,000 transactions daily — making a total of 375,000 transactions for the month of 25 working days.