Rural Free Delivery

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Rural Free Delivery (RFD) is a service which began in the United States in the late 19th century, to deliver mail directly to rural farm families. Prior to RFD, individuals living in more remote homesteads had to pick up mail themselves at sometimes distant post offices or pay private carriers for delivery. The proposal to offer free rural delivery was not universally embraced. Private carriers and local shopkeepers feared a loss of business. The postal service began experiments with Rural Free Delivery as early as 1890. However, it was not until 1893, when Georgia Congressman Thomas E. Watson pushed through legislation, that the practice was mandated.[1] However, universal implementation was slow; RFD was not adopted generally in the United States Post Office until 1902.[2] The rural delivery service uses a network of rural routes traveled by carriers to deliver and pick up mail to and from roadside mailboxes.[3]

Rural Free Delivery vehicle (from Popular Mechanics, September 1905)


Rural carrier in an early electric vehicle, circa 1910

Until the late 19th century, residents of rural areas had to either travel to a distant post office to pick up their mail, or else pay for delivery by a private carrier. Postmaster General John Wanamaker was ardently in favor of Rural Free Delivery (RFD),[4] as it was originally called, along with many thousands of Americans living in rural communities who wanted to send and receive mail inexpensively. However, the adoption of a nationwide RFD system had many opponents. Some were simply opposed to the cost of the service. Private express carriers thought inexpensive rural mail delivery would eliminate their business, and many town merchants worried the service would reduce farm families' weekly visits to town to obtain goods and merchandise, or that mail order merchants selling through catalogs, such as Sears, Roebuck and Company might present significant competition.[1][5]

Much support for the introduction of a nationwide rural mail delivery service came from The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the nation's oldest agricultural organization.[4]

Fayette County in east-central Indiana may be the birthplace of Rural Free Delivery. Milton Trusler, a leading farmer in the county, began advocating the idea in 1880; as the president of the Indiana Grange, he spoke to farmers statewide frequently over the following sixteen years.[6]

The Post Office Department first experimented with the idea of rural mail delivery on October 1, 1891 to determine the viability of RFD. They began with five routes covering ten miles, 33 years after free delivery in cities had begun. The first routes to receive RFD during its experimental phase were in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla.[7]

Legislation by U.S. Congressman Thomas E. Watson of Georgia mandated the practice, and RFD finally became an official service in 1896.[1] That year, 82 rural routes were put into operation. A massive undertaking, nationwide RFD service took several years to implement, and remains the "biggest and most expensive endeavor"[8] ever instituted by the U.S. postal service.

The service has grown steadily. By 1901, the mileage had increased to over 100,000; the cost was $1,750,321 and over 37,000 carriers were employed. In 1910 the mileage was 993,068; cost $36,915,000; carriers 40,997. In 1913 came the introduction of parcel post delivery, which caused another boom in rural deliveries. Parcel post service allowed the distribution of national newspapers and magazines, and was responsible for millions of dollars of sales in mail-order merchandise to customers in rural areas. In 1930 there were 43,278 rural routes serving about 6,875,321 families—that is about 25,471,735 persons. The cost was $106,338,341.[9] In 1916, the Rural Post "Good" Roads Act authorized federal funds for rural post roads.

First routes

The following is a list of the first rural routes established in each state, along with the names of the (up to three) Post Offices served and the date of establishment.[7]

State Post Office(s) Date
Alabama Opelika December 7, 1896
Alaska Nome May 10, 1901
Arizona Tempe November 24, 1896
Arkansas Clarksville October 19, 1896
California Campbell February 1, 1897
Colorado Loveland November 10, 1896
Connecticut Branford, Guilford, Milford June 1, 1898
Delaware Harrington October 3, 1898
District of
Anacostia, Bennings September 1, 1902
Florida Winterpark January 1, 1898
Georgia Quitman December 8, 1896
Hawaii Haiku March 1, 1918
Idaho Moscow April 14, 1900
Illinois Auburn December 10, 1896
Indiana Hartsville, Hope October 15, 1896
Iowa Morning Sun November 10, 1896
Kansas Bonner Springs October 26, 1896
Kentucky Allensville January 11, 1897
Louisiana Thibodaux November 1, 1896
Maine Gorham, Naples, Sebago Lake November 23, 1896
Maryland Westminster October 15, 1896
Massachusetts Bernardston, Greenfield November 2, 1896
Michigan Climax December 3, 1896
Minnesota Farmington January 1, 1897
Mississippi Hickory October 1, 1901
Missouri Cairo October 15, 1896
Montana Billings February 1, 1902
Nebraska Tecumseh November 7, 1896
Nevada Lovelock December 1, 1903
New Hampshire Pittsfield October 20, 1898
New Jersey Moorestown June 6, 1898
New Mexico Roswell March 1, 1902
New York Elba October 15, 1896
North Carolina China Grove October 23, 1896
North Dakota Wahpeton October 3, 1898
Ohio Collinsville, Darrtown, Somerville October 15, 1896
Oklahoma Hennessey August 15, 1900
Oregon Turner October 16, 1897
Pennsylvania New Stanton, Ruffsdale November 24, 1896
Rhode Island South Portsmouth January 1, 1899
South Carolina Cope, Orangeburg, Saint George March 1, 1899
South Dakota Ellis May 1, 1899
Tennessee Atoka January 11, 1897
Texas Fate, La Grange August 1, 1899
Utah Murray August 15, 1899
Vermont Grand Isle December 21, 1896
Virginia Palmyra October 22, 1896
Washington North Yakima April 1, 1897
West Virginia Charles Town, Halltown, Uvilla October 1, 1896
Wisconsin Sun Prairie November 16, 1896
Wyoming Hilliard, Sheridan, Wheatland October 15, 1900

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Encylopedia Britannica - Rural Free Delivery
  2. Historian United States Postal Service (May 2007). "Rural Free Delivery" (PDF). United States Postal Service. Retrieved April 17, 2011. On October 1, 1890, Congress authorized funding of $10,000 to test the “practicability” of delivering mail to small towns, defined as those having populations of from 300 to 5,000 people, and nearby rural districts..<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Rural Mailboxes". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2008-11-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "Rural Free Delivery". Morning Star. Albion Design and Marketing. 2001-12-30.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Clark, Mary (Spring 2007). "Rural Free Delivery" (PDF). Dane County Historical Society Newsletter. Madison, WI 53711, US: Dane County Historical Society. 26 (1): 5–6. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-05-15. Did You Know? 'Neither snow nor rain .....' Contrary to popular belief, the quote at the beginning of this article is not the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service. According to the Postal Service, this inscription was supplied by William Mitchell Kendall of the firm McKim, Mead & White, the architects who designed the New York General Post Office building in 1912. Kendall explained that the sentence appears in the works of Herodotus and describes the expedition of the Greeks against the Persians under Cyrus, about 500 B.C. The Persians operated a system of mounted postal couriers, and the sentence describes the fidelity with which their work was done. Unknown parameter |dead-url= ignored (help)CS1 maint: location (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology. Fayette County Interim Report. Indianapolis: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 1981-07, xviii.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "First Rural Routes by State". United States Postal Service. Retrieved 2013-12-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Harry McKown (2006-10-31). "This Month in North Carolina History". This Month in North Carolina History. University of North Carolina.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Parcel Post: Delivery of Dreams". Smithsonian Institution Libraries.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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