City letter carriers pose with handcarts used to collect and transport mail, 1885.
City letter carriers pose with handcarts used to collect and transport mail, 1885.Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
City letter carriers pose with handcarts used to collect and transport mail, 1885.
City collection mail wagon manufactured by Studebaker Brothers. The wagon was used to collect mail from sidewalk mailboxes in Chicago, Illinois. 1890.
Postal officials encouraged Rural Free Delivery (RFD) carriers to replace their horses and wagons with the latest in transportation technology. This unidentified carrier painted his early electric-motored vehicle in the same paint and identification scheme as the RFD wagons of the era. He is, no doubt, only able to complete his wintertime rounds thanks to a snow-plowed road. Automobiles were not yet adequate replacements for horses, wagons, and sleds on rural roads. 1910.
Three-wheeled mail collection Indian motorcycle in Washington, D.C., on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 12th Street. The motorcycle was used only on an experimental basis in DC. 1912.
A letter carrier collecting mail from a sidewalk mail collection box. His mail truck is parked at the curb. 1915.
Postal employees loading mail into a de Havilland mail airplane at Hadley Field in New Brunswick, New Jersey. Regularly scheduled transcontinental airmail service, which had begun in the summer of 1924, was extended to east coast with the completion of a series of airmail beacons that helped guide pilots across the country. Airmail pilots Dean Smith and James DeWitt Hill carried mail out of Hadley Field on the of July 1, 1925. Smith ran out of gas and crashed outside of Cleveland, Ohio. Hill reached Cleveland with his mail, which was transferred onto airplanes with new pilots for the next part of the transcontinental journey.
Rural carrier Lloyd Mortice created this unusual vehicle for use on his snow-bound New England route. Mortice fitted his 1926 Model-T with a steel track on the rear drive shaft, enabling him to drop either wheels or skis into place in front, depending on weather conditions. The company that sold Mortice the steel track later produced a similar vehicle based on the carrier's idea. 1926.
Officials are gathered to welcome the first Highway Post Office bus in Strasburg, Virginia on February 10, 1941. This bus traveled on a route between Washington, DC and Harrisonburg, Virginia. By the 1930s, a significant decline in railroad passenger traffic had caused a subsequent decline in the use of railway trains. To fill the void, the postal service transferred some en route distribution from trains to highway buses. This is the first Highway Post Office bus and is in the collection of the National Postal Museum. 1941.
A letter carrier drives one of the Department’s new right-hand drive vans on the snowy streets of an unidentified city. The Department ordered thousands of new postal vehicles in the early 1950s as part of its post-war modernization plan. A variety of vehicles were ordered, including right-hand drive step vans such as this. Many of the new vehicles performed adequately, but few of the dozens of different styles ordered were re-ordered in large quantities. 1953.
City letter carrier seated in a three-wheeled "mailster" motor vehicle. Carriers used these vehicles to carry the ever-increasing amounts of mail that was being delivered to American households after end of the Second World War. The mailster worked best in temperate climates or on even terrain. In other areas, they sometimes did not work at all. Northern carriers, immobilized in as little as three inches of snow, also complained of the vehicles' inability to heat properly. The three-wheel design left mailsters susceptible to tipping over if cornering over 25 miles per hour or if caught in a wind gust. One carrier complained that his mailster was tipped over by a large dog.
City letter carriers pose with handcarts used to collect and transport mail, 1885.
Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
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See the Surprising Ways the U.S. Mail Has Been Delivered Over the Years

Dec 14, 2015

As the holiday rush moves into full throttle, the U.S. Postal Service is predicting that Monday will be the season's busiest mailing day for the packages and cards Americans use to send their loved ones season's greetings. It's estimated that 5.5 billion cards, letters, flats and packages will be sent through the mail this season and—even though use of the USPS web services is also expected to peak on Monday—that's sure to mean that many Americans will find themselves waiting in line to get their bundles weighed, stamped and sent.

But while the mail sent today will likely be delivered in familiar trucks or planes, the postal service has employed a number of delivery techniques over the years, from horse-drawn carriages to surprising snow plows. Here are just a few of those vehicles from more than 100 years of postal history, as seen in photographs from the collection of the National Postal Museum.

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