Overcoming Congestion

Diorama of a congested street showing several small statues of people carrying or moving mail
How many postal innovations can you find in this picture?

Urban intersections were free-for-alls at the end of the 1800s. Traffic signals had not been invented, and reckless drivers seized the right of way. By 1900, 3 million horses, pulling an assortment of wagons and trolleys, choked U.S. city streets. The postal service moved to solve two growing concerns, transporting an increasing volume of mail into and through the cities and then delivering that mail to the addressee.

The postal service deployed several tools to move mail swiftly and securely through urban city streets.

A Cutler Mail Box

The first mail chute was installed in the Elwood Building in Rochester, New York in 1884. It was designed by James G. Cutler.

red and blue screen wagon on display

Screen wagons helped protect the mail as it was transported through the busy city streets. This wagon could carry as much as 5,000 pounds of mail on a single trip.

photo of a U.S. Mail motorcar

The Postal Service first tested motorcars for mail delivery in 1899. Today the service owns the world's largest vehicular fleet.

Grand Central Depot trolley car

Large cities used specially designed trolley cars to carry mail through the congested streets.

black and white photo of a harbor mail boat

In order to move the mail off newly arrived ocean vessels while they were still in quarantine, the postal service commissioned harbor boats to transfer mail from the ocean vessels to land.

postal workers posing with their handcarts

As mail volumes exploded in the growing cities, letter carriers sought relief from their loads of letters, newspapers and pakages with wheeled handcarts.

photo of a parcel mailbox next to a letter box

Postal officials began providing mailboxes for use on public streets in the mid 19th century.