The Railway Mail Service

Research Article
Clerks on an RPO enjoy each other’s company.

Welcome to Railway Mail Service

Authors: Miriam Pysno & Katherine Fetter

“There is no position in the Government more exacting than that of a postal clerk, and no one that has so many requirements. He must not only be sound ‘in wind and limb,’ but possessed of more than ordinary intelligence, and a retentive memory. His work is constant, and his only recreation, study. He must not only be proficient in his own immediate work, but he must have a general knowledge of the entire country, so that the correspondence he handles shall reach its destination at the earliest possible moment. He must know no night and no day. He must be impervious to heat and cold. Rushing along at a rate of forty or fifty miles an hour, in charge of that which is sacred-the correspondence of the people...”
The American Railway(1)

Americans Railway Post Office (RPO) clerks were the elite of the postal system. From 1864 to 1977, they traveled across the country aboard rickety rail cars in the pursuit of delivering mail to the masses. They courageously faced everything from unpredictable weather, robberies, and wrecks, all the while touting their motto “the mail must go through.” Amid the hardships, these clerks formed a lasting bond and camaraderie that is rarely seen in jobs today. This website is in dedication of their work with the Railway Mail Service (RMS), and highlights not only a history of the RMS, but the personal oral histories of some clerks who spent the best times of their lives braving the rails.   

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Loading mail at terminal depot to RPO car, cir. 1920

The authors would like to thank Deanna Boyd and Jennifer Giambone for their hard work on this project. Ms. Boyd did a tremendous job of gathering names and addresses of retired RPO clerks to begin the work. As you listen to the RPO clerk interviews, you will hear a woman’s voice. That is Jennifer Giambone, who contacted each clerk who responded to our inquiry. The majority of the clerks agreed to be interviewed by telephone, and Ms. Giambone spent many hours working with clerks to help them recall life and details now decades in the past.

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Loading mail at terminal depot to RPO car, cir. 1965

1) Clark, Thomas C. and John Bogart and M Forney and E Alexander and H Prout and Horace Porter and Theodore Vorhees and Benjamin Norton and Arthur Hadley and Thomas James and Charles Adams and S Adams, Jr. The American Railway. Secaucus, New Jersey: Castle. 1988.