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Incredible Old Photos Show How Hard Mail Delivery Really Is

Turns out, getting mail to everyone everywhere in the country is no small task.

Posted on August 17, 2020, at 6:24 p.m. ET

The United States Postal Service is currently experiencing a national crisis, which really sums up much of its history. It was created in the 1770s with the intention that it would be a neutral carrier of all information, which at the time meant newspapers, regardless of their politics.

The post office moved up the ranks within the government between 1775 and 1892, culminating in being a cabinet-level department before becoming an independent agency in 1970. It is legally required to carry mail to every single citizen, which has led to some pretty unorthodox methods of delivery, and means that the stodgy old post office is one of the largest employers in the country.

On a normal day, their task of delivering mail is a massive logistical undertaking, and longstanding budget problems and competition from private carriers have threatened the efficacy of the post office. In recent weeks, questions have been raised about the readiness of the post office to handle an influx of mail-in ballots in time for the November election, as a result of decisions from the newest postmaster to cut costs.

Here, we take a look back at the golden age of the post office, when innovations in technology made delivery easier, and most people still depended on their postal carrier for news from the outside world.

A crowd of people stand in front of a post office tent with a sign that says "stamps"
Boston Globe / Getty Images

The post office at the East Boston Airport in Boston on July 1, 1926. In addition to selling stamps, the airport had just opened its airmail service where local businesses could send and receive packages transported by plane.

Two men, one in a fedora and one in a soft aviator helmet, stand holding a bag of mail in the cockpit of an old plane that says US Air
Minnesota Historical Society / Getty Images

Charles Lindbergh loads his first sack of airmail in April 1926.

A man looks out a window with two small children
Getty Images

An American mail carrier checking the weather from his window, 1955.

A man gets on a wood boat with a sack of mail in a bayou
Dt / AP

Mail carrier T.J. Oufnac delivers mail by Louisiana swamps around the Lake Verret area near Napoleonville, Louisiana, on July 14, 1948.

A man on horseback hands a letter to a woman in a dress and apron standing on a wooden bridge
Francis Miller / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

A mail carrier delivering a mail to a woman, Leslie County, Kentucky, 1961.

A fleet of horse-drawn carriages with men holding their reins
Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

Horse-drawn American mail vans.

Two dogsled teams and pull carts filled with mail in a snowy village
Historical / Getty Images

US Mail Team at Camp 88, Alaska Engineering Commission Railway, circa 1918.

Three men on small motorcars that say US mail
Anonymous / AP

New motorcycle carriers replace six horse-drawn vehicles, Norfolk, Virginia, April 26, 1914.

Underwood Archives / Getty Images

Four special delivery mail carriers for the US Postal Service try out new scooters, mid-1910s.

a group of white men in front of a wagon that says US Air Mail
Underwood Archives / Getty Images

United States Post Office officials at Hazelhurst Field on Long Island with a sign on a vehicle announcing the new air mail schedule between New York and San Francisco, Garden City, New York, 1924.

Getty Images

Left, mail carrier Arthur LeBlanc from Berlin, New Hampshire, delivering post from his horse-drawn sled, 1950. Right, a woman receives a letter, 1940.

Vecchio / Getty Images

A large group of mail carriers leaving the General Post Office early in the morning to start their rounds in New York City at Christmas, 1955.

A man in front of a pile of messy packages stands under a sign reading "imperfectly packed parcels"
Topical Press Agency / Getty Images

A post office department dealing with parcels too badly packed to be delivered normally, 1926.

Denver Post / Getty Images

Huge mounds of mail arrive in Denver, Dec. 25, 1952.

Messy piles of mail in a huge, empty mailroom
Universal Images Group via Getty

Unsorted mail at the General Post Office, New York City, 1914.

Two black women in military uniforms sort mail
Smith Collection / Getty Images

Two members of the Women's Army Corps identifying incorrectly addressed mail for soldiers, Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, Nov. 30, 1943.

Minnesota Historical Society / Getty Images

Postal workers sort mail in a freight car, Minnesota.

A middle-aged white man in glasses unloads mail onto a conveyer belt
Walter Sanders / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

A view of the first automated post office, 1961.

Four people at a mail kiosk that offers change and stamps
Francis Miller / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Self-service automatic post office that provides 24-hour service for buying stamps, postcards, and mailing packages, 1964.

A white man with a shoulder bag reading "income tax returns" takes a piece of paper from a black man driving a car
Keystone / Getty Images

A mail carrier stationed outside a post office in Washington, DC, collects tax returns from car drivers who are rushing to beat the midnight deadline, April 15, 1965.

A tiny shuttered wood building reading "US Post Office" in the middle of a desolate landscape, and a mail wagon that says "save time, get a mail box in a city
Alfred Eisenstadt / Getty Images

Left: A post office in the Pacific Northwest, 1939. Right: A mail wagon advertises mailboxes, 1916.

Russell Lee / Farm Security Administration via Getty Images

A girl getting mail in Oklahoma, February 1940.

Well-dressed men and women stand in line to drop off letters in a booth shaped like a giant mailbox in a city square
Getty Images

People queue in front of a giant mailbox booth installed by the US post office in several places in New York so that residents could quickly drop off their Christmas cards, Dec. 15, 1961.

A man unloads mail from mailboxes covered by snow
Spencer Grant / Getty Images

A mail carrier works during a snowy winter, Hingham, Massachusetts, 1970.

UPDATE

Two images in this post have been updated to better reflect the time period.






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