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Customers and Communities : Reaching Rural America

Reaching Rural America

Long after city dwellers began to enjoy free home mail delivery, rural Americans still had to travel to the post office—which was often located in a country store—to pick up their mail. Many journeyed considerable distances over tough and muddy roads to get their mail, with no assurance that any letters would be there. Farm families, who paid the same postage rates as the rest of the nation, began to complain. For decades Congress was reluctant to act, fearing that the country was so large that free rural delivery would be a financial disaster.

Experimental rural delivery finally began in 1896. Eight years later, the enormously popular service became an official part of the Post Office Department.

Related Videos:

RFD: To The Country
RFD: To the Country explores the history of Rural Free Delivery. Beginning in 1896, this service helped put rural Americans in better touch with the world.


RFD: The Second Century
In 1996, the National Postal Museum produced this video that celebrated the Rural Free Delivery centennial and looks at how the service works in this day and age.


Sections of a wood paneled post office

Dillsburg—the rural post office
One of the first sights greeting visitors to Reaching Rural America is a small-town post office used in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania from 1917-1971.

Green one-horse mail sled

Mail Sleds
Mail sleds were used in the northern states during winter months as mobile post offices.

Tunnel-design rural mailboxes

Rural Mailboxes
The now-familiar tunnel-shaped mailbox was designed in 1915 by a Post Office engineer, Roy J. Joroleman.

Group of mailboxes designed to resemble a camera, Uncle Sam and the US Capitol, and a plane.

Folk Art Mailboxes
Within the framework of postal requirements, rural Americans use their mailboxes to express their individuality.

Ford Model T with red skis instead of front tires

This 1921 Ford Model-T has front wheels that are interchangeable with skis, and rear tires fitted with tank-like treads. Learn more about these old fashioned snowmobiles.

Various containers used to carry goods through parcel post

Parcel Post Service
Parcel Post Service was an immediate and overwhelmingly popular success. Although the exhibit is not currently on display in the Museum, selected portions of the exhibit are still available online.
Although the exhibit, Reaching Rural America is not currently on display in the Museum, selected portions of the exhibit are still available online. Click on the topic titles above to learn more about them.

Related Links:

"Rural Mailboxes: Soap Boxes Won't Do" article

"Post Office Murals" article

As Precious as Gold online exhibit

"Yellow Fever" article

video screenshot
Customers and Communities

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