Remembrances: Rural Free Delivery

Rural Free Delivery vehicle (from Popular Mechanics, September 1905). Image credit: Wikipedia.

Rural Free Delivery vehicle (from Popular Mechanics, September 1905). Image credit: Wikipedia.

by president emerita Sylvia Henricks

The goal of RFD (Rural Free Delivery), “Everyman’s mail to Everyman’s door,” was a new idea in the late 1800s, but one that John Wanamaker, President Benjamin Harrison’s Postmaster General fully supported. Congress did not – “too expensive” — “no money” — ” farmers don’t get much mail, anyway.” However, others who promoted the idea were daily newspapers and periodicals, mail order houses such as Montgomery Ward and Sears Roebuck, and those farmers who had to make frequent trips over their bad roads to pick up their mail at their town’s grocery store. John Wanamaker, during his four years in office, and after, supported R.F.D.

A number of years ago, when I became acquainted with some “older” township residents, I wrote about early rural mail delivery in Franklin Township.  Chester Hittle, then a retired farmer who well remembered the early days of mail delivery, was full of stories. One story was about a carrier’s attempt to improve on the standard horse and buggy. Ernest C. Lowes bought a motorcycle, “a direct drive and he had to kill the engine at each box. To move on, he had to grasp the handle bars and run 20 feet before the motorcycle started, and then hop on for the next box which might be 200 feet or a mile away, and that got very tiresome with something near 150 boxes. He and his fellow carrier,” Mr. Hittle said, “soon went to Maxwell autos.”

In a few years the automobile replaced any other mode of delivering the mail.  Former Acton postmaster, Earl “Chub” Willsey, in an interview, recalled his experience as a carrier in the 1950s. The two routes out of Acton had been combined into one. “When I began,” he said, “I drove 63 miles, and had some 400 stops. I think it was one of the longer routes in Indiana.  When I ‘went inside’ as postmaster in 1960, I was driving 75 miles a day, with 700 stops. A car would last about 8 months,” he added.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *