MAIL

During Antebellum times, before mailboxes arrived circa 1850, Americans received mail by traveling into town to the local post office or if there was no such facility, they went to the local courthouse and asked for their mail from the County Clerk.  If mail wasn’t retrieved, then the name of the recipient was printed in the local newspaper with the hopes the intended recipients would see the notice and make their way into town to retrieve the letter.  Often times neighbors, relatives, or friends would see a notice in the newspaper and relay the information to the proper individual.

Before the civil war, if you wanted to send a letter, you would make a trip to the post office or County Clerk and purchase a stamp for the properly addressed missive and leave the letter there.  Early mail at the dawn of the country would be delivered to the post office or county clerk 19by horse, in later years by carriage, and still later in the antebellum period by the new rail systems.

History

Running pony logo used by the U.S. Post Office Department before the creation of the USPS

The first postal service in America arose in February of 1692 when a grant from King William & Queen Mary empowered Thomas Neale “to erect, settle and establish within the chief parts of their majesties’ colonies and plantations in America, an office or offices for the receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years.”[citation needed]

The United States Post Office (U.S.P.O.) was created in Philadelphia under Benjamin Franklin on July 26, 1775 by decree of the Second Continental Congress. Based on the Postal Clause in Article One of the United States Constitution, empowering Congress “To establish post offices and post roads,” it became the Post Office Department (U.S.P.O.D.) in 1792. It was part of the Presidential cabinet and the Postmaster General was the last person in the United States presidential line of succession. In 1971, the department was reorganized as a quasi-independent corporation of the federal government and acquired its present name. The Postmaster General is no longer in the presidential line of succession.[4]

The Post Office Department was enlarged during the tenure of President Andrew Jackson. As the Post Office expanded, difficulties were experienced due to a lack of employees and transportation. The Post Office’s employees at that time were still subject to the so-called ‘spoils’ system, where faithful political supporters of the executive branch were appointed to positions in the post office and other government corporations as a reward for their patronage. These appointees rarely had prior experience in postal service and mail delivery. This system of political patronage was replaced in 1883 after passage of the Pendleton Act (Civil Service Reform Act).[5]

Ten years before waterways were declared post roads in 1823, the Post Office used steamboats to carry mail between post towns where no roads existed.[6] Once it became clear that the postal system in the United States needed to expand across the entire country, the use of the railroad to transport the mail was instituted in 1832 on one line in Pennsylvania.[7] All railroads in the United States were designated as post routes, after passage of the Act of July 7, 1838. Mail service by railroad increased rapidly thereafter.[8]

In 1847, the U.S. Mail Steamship Company acquired the contract to carry the U. S. mails from New York, with stops in New Orleans and Havana, to the Isthmus of Panama for delivery in California. The same year, Pacific Mail Steamship Company had acquired the right to transport mail under contract from the United States Government from the Isthmus of Panama to California. In 1855, William Henry Aspinwall completed the Panama Railway, the first transcontinental railroad, providing service from the east coast across the Istumus to California in three weeks for the mails, passengers and goods and remained an important route until the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. Railroad companies greatly expanded mail transport service after 1862, and the Railway Mail Service was inaugurated in 1869.[7] Rail cars designed from the start to sort and distribute mail while rolling were soon introduced.[7] RMS employees sorted mail ‘on the fly’ during the journey, and became some of the most skilled workers in the postal service. An RMS sorter had to be able to separate the mail quickly into compartments based on its final destination, before the first destination arrived, and work at the rate of 600 pieces of mail an hour. They were tested regularly for speed and accuracy.[9] The advent of rural free delivery in the U.S. in 1896 and the inauguration of parcel post service in 1913 greatly increased the volume of mail shipped nationwide, and motivated the development of more efficient postal transportation systems.[10]

On August 12, 1918, the Post Office Department took over air mail service from the U.S. Army Air Service (USAAS). Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger appointed Benjamin B. Lipsner to head the civilian-operated Air Mail Service. One of Lipsner’s first acts was to hire four pilots, each with at least 1,000 hours flying experience, paying them an average of $4,000 per year. The Post Office Department used mostly World War I military surplus de Havilland DH-4 aircraft. During 1918, the Post Office hired an additional 36 pilots. In its first year of operation, the Post Office completed 1,208 airmail flights with 90 forced landings. Of those, 53 were due to weather and 37 to engine failure. By 1920, the Air Mail service had delivered 49 million letters.[11] Domestic air mail became obsolete in 1975, and international air mail in 1995, when the USPS began transporting First Class mail by air on a routine basis.

The Post Office was one of the first government departments to regulate obscene materials on a national basis. When the U.S. Congress passed the Comstock laws of 1873, it became illegal to send through the U.S. mail any material considered obscene, indecent or which promoted abortion issues, contraception, or alcohol consumption.[12]

EARLY MAIL DELIVERY

Pony Express

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For other uses, see Pony Express (disambiguation).

Frank E. Webner, Pony Express rider c. 1861

U.S. Postal Service trademarked Pony Express logo

The Pony Express was a fast mail service crossing the North American continent from St. Joseph, Missouri, to Sacramento, California, from April 1860 to October 1861. It became the west’s most direct means of east-west communication before the telegraph and was vital for tying California closely with the Union just before the American Civil War.

The Pony Express was a mail delivery system of the Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express Company of 1849 which in 1850 became the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company. This firm was founded by William H. Russell, Alexander Majors, and William B. Waddell.[1]

The original fast mail services had messages carried by horseback riders in relay across the prairies, plains, deserts, and mountains of the Western United States. For its 18 months of operation, it briefly reduced the time for mail to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about ten days.[2]

By having a shorter route and using mounted riders rather than stagecoaches, the founders of the Pony Express hoped to establish their service as a faster and more reliable conduit for the mail and win an exclusive government mail contract. Pony Express demonstrated that a unified transcontinental system could be built and operated continuously year round. Since its replacement by the telegraph, the Pony Express has become part of the lore of the American West. Its reliance on the ability and endurance of individual riders and horses over technological innovation was part of “American rugged individualism.”

Its route has been designated the Pony Express National Historic Trail. Approximately 120 historic sites along the trail may eventually be open to the public, including 50 stations or station ruins.[3]

From 1866 until 1890, the Pony Express logo was used by Wells Fargo, which provided secure mail and freight services. The United States Postal Service (USPS) uses “Pony Express” as a trademark for postal services in the US. Freight Link international courier services, based in Russia, adopted the Pony Express trademark and a logo similar to that of the USPS.

April 1, 2010 will be the Pony Express’ 150th anniversary. Located in St. Joseph, Missouri, the Patee House Museum, which was the Pony Express’ headquarters, will be hosting events celebrating the anniversary.[4]

Contents

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Operation

Pony Express Stables in St. Joseph, Missouri [5]

A total of about 190 Pony Express stations were placed at intervals of about 10 miles (16 km) along the approximately 2,000 miles (3,200 km) route.[6] This was roughly the maximum distance a horse could travel at full gallop. The rider changed to a fresh horse at each station, taking only the mail pouch called a mochila (from the Spanish for pouch) with him. The employers stressed the importance of the pouch. They often said that, if it came to be, the horse and rider should perish before the mochila did. The mochila was thrown over the saddle and held in place by the weight of the rider sitting on it. Each corner had a cantina, or pocket. Bundles of mail were placed in these cantinas, which were padlocked for safety. The mochila could hold 20 pounds (10 kg) of mail along with the 20 pounds of material carried on the horse. Included in that 20 pounds were a water sack, a Bible, a horn for alerting the relay station master to prepare the next horse, a revolver, and a choice of a rifle or another revolver.[citation needed] Eventually, everything except one revolver and a water sack was removed, allowing for a total of 165 pounds (75 kg) on the horse’s back. Riders, who could not weigh over 125 pounds, changed about every 75–100 miles (120–160 km), and rode day and night. In emergencies, a given rider might ride two stages back to back, over 20 hours on a galloping horse.

It is unknown if riders tried crossing the Sierra Nevadas in winter, but they certainly crossed central Nevada. By 1860 there was a telegraph station in Carson City, Nevada. The riders received $25 per week as pay. A comparable wage for unskilled labor at the time was about $1 per week.

Alexander Majors, one of the founders of the Pony Express, had acquired more than 400 horses for the project. These averaged about 14½ hands (1.47 m) high and averaged 900 pounds (410 kg)[7] each; thus, the name pony was appropriate, even if not strictly correct in all cases.

Route of the Pony Express

Pony Express map from National Park Service.

The roughly 1900 mile route[8] roughly followed the Oregon Trail, and California Trail to Fort Bridger in Wyoming and then the Mormon Trail to Salt Lake City, Utah. From there it roughly followed the Central Nevada Route to Carson City, Nevada before passing over the Sierras into Sacramento, California.

The route started at St. Joseph, Missouri on the Missouri River, it then followed what is modern day US 36—the Pony Express Highway—to Marysville, Kansas, where it turned northwest following Little Blue River to Fort Kearny in Nebraska. Through Nebraska it followed the Great Platte River Road, cutting through Gothenburg, Nebraska and passing Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scotts Bluff, clipping the edge of Colorado at Julesburg, Colorado, before arriving at Fort Laramie in Wyoming. From there it followed the Sweetwater River, passing Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, and Split Rock, to Fort Caspar, through South Pass to Fort Bridger and then down to Salt Lake City. From Salt Lake City it generally followed the Central Nevada Route blazed by Captain James H. Simpson of the Corps of Topographical Engineers in 1859. This route roughly follows today’s U.S. Highway 50 across Nevada and Utah. It crossed the Great Basin, the Utah-Nevada Desert, and the Sierra Nevada near Lake Tahoe before arriving in Sacramento. Mail was then sent via steamer down the Sacramento River to San Francisco. On a few instances when the steamer was missed, riders took the mail via horseback to Oakland, California.

First Westbound Journey

The messenger delivering the mochila from New York and Washington missed a connection in Detroit and arrived in Hannibal, Missouri, two hours late [date??]. The railroad cleared the track and dispatched a special locomotive called the “Missouri” with a one-car train to make the 206-mile (332 km) trek across the state in a record 4 hours, 51 minutes — an average of 40 miles per hour (64 km/h).[9] It arrived at Olive and 8th Street — a few blocks from the company’s new headquarters in a hotel at Patee House at 12th Street and Pennsylvania and the company’s nearby stables on Pennsylvania. The first pouch contained 49 letters, five private telegrams, and some papers for San Francisco and intermediate points.[10]

St. Joseph Mayor M. Jeff Thompson, William H. Russell and Alexander Majors gave speeches before the mochila was handed off. The ride began at about 7:15 p.m. The St. Joseph Gazette was the only newspaper included in the bag.

The identity of the first rider has long been in dispute. The Weekly West (April 4, 1860) reported Johnson William Richardson was the first rider (see Footnote 358 [1]).

This 25-cent stamp printed by Wells Fargo was cancelled in Virginia City, Nevada, and used on a revived Pony Express run between there and Sacramento beginning in 1862.

Pony Express statue in St. Joseph, Missouri

The postal service running pony logo used before 1970 was not inspired by the Pony Express as many believe.

Wells Fargo security patch

The first horse-ridden leg of the Express was only about a half mile (800 m) from the Express stables/railroad area to the Missouri River ferry at the foot of Jules Street. Johnny Fry is credited as the first westbound rider who carried the pouch across the Missouri River ferry to Elwood, Kansas. Reports indicated that horse and rider crossed the river. In later rides, the courier crossed the river without a horse and picked up his mount at a stable on the other side.

The first westbound mochila reached its destination, San Francisco, on April 14, at 1:00 a.m. [11]

Eastbound

James Randall is credited as the first rider from the San Francisco Alta telegraph office, since he was on the steamship Antelope to go to Sacramento. At 2:45 a.m., William (Sam) Hamilton was the first rider to begin the journey from Sacramento.

Closing

Although the Pony Express proved that the central/northern mail route was viable, Russell, Majors and Waddell did not get the contract to deliver mail over the route. The contract was instead awarded to Jeremy Dehut in March 1861, who had taken over the southern Congressionally favored Butterfield Overland Mail Stage Line. Holladay took over the Russell, Majors and Waddell stations for his stagecoaches.

Shortly after the contract was awarded, the start of the American Civil War caused the stage line to cease operation. From March 1861, the Pony Express ran mail only between Salt Lake City and Sacramento. The Pony Express announced its closure on October 26, 1861, two days after the transcontinental telegraph reached Salt Lake City and connected Omaha, Nebraska and Sacramento, California.[12] Other telegraph lines connected points along the line and other cities on the east and west coasts.

The Pony Express had grossed $90,000 and lost $200,000.[13] In 1866, after the American Civil War was over, Holladay sold the Pony Express assets along with the remnants of the Butterfield Stage to Wells Fargo for $1.5 million.

The introduction of postage stamps in the UK in May 1840 was received with great interest in the United States (and around the world). A private carrier, Alexander M. Greig of New York City, established a “City Despatch Post” on February 1, 1842 which covered New York City as far north as 23rd St. He issued stamps, bearing a portrait of Washington, printed from line engraved plates. [2]

A few months after founding the City Despatch Post, Greig sold it to the U.S. Government and the post became known as the “United States City Despatch Post.” The government began operation of this local post on August 16, 1842 under an Act of Congress of some years earlier which had authorized such local delivery.

The Act of Congress of March 3, 1845, (effective July 1, 1845), established uniform (and reduced) postal rates throughout the nation, with a uniform rate of five cents for distances under 300 miles (500 km). However, Congress did not authorize the production of stamps until 1847, so postmasters made provisional issues. These included both prepaid envelopes and stamps, mostly of crude design, the New York Postmaster’s Provisional being the only one of quality comparable to later stamps. The provisionals of Baltimore were notable for the reproduced signature of the city’s postmaster—James Buchanan. All of the provisionals are rare, and several command prices above US$100,000. These cities issued provisionals in 1845 and 1846:

Provisional stamp from Providence, Rhode Island.

[edit] First stamps

1847 5¢; the first US stamp, Scott #1

1847 10¢, Scott #2

Congress finally provided for the issuance of stamps by passing an act on March 3, 1847, and the Postmaster-General immediately let a contract to the New York City engraving firm of Rawdon, Wright, Hatch, and Edson. The first stamp issue of the U.S. was offered for sale on July 1, 1847, in NYC, with Boston receiving stamps the following day and other cities thereafter. They consisted of an engraved 5-cent red brown stamp depicting Benjamin Franklin (the first postmaster of the US), and a 10-cent value in black with George Washington. As for all U.S. stamps until 1857, they were imperforate.

The 5 cent stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 oz and travelling less than 300 miles, the 10 cent stamp for deliveries to locations greater than 300 miles, or, twice the weight deliverable for the 5 cent stamp. Each stamp was hand engraved in what is believed to be steel, and laid out in sheets of 200 stamps. The 5 cent stamp is often found today with very poor impressions because the type of ink used contained small pieces of quartz, and wore down the steel plates to which the stamp was printed. On the other hand, most 10 cent stamps are of strong impressions. A fresh and brilliantly printed 5 cent stamp is prized by collectors.

3 cents, 1851

1 cent, 1851, type II

The stamps were an immediate success; about 3,700,000 of the 5¢ and about 865,000 of the 10¢ were sold, and enough of those have survived to ensure a ready supply for collectors, although the demand is such that a very fine 5¢ sells for around US$500 as of 2003, and the 10¢ in very fine condition sells for around $1,400 in used form. Unused stamps are much scarcer, fetching around $6,000 and $28,000 respectively, if in very fine condition. One can pay as little as 5 to 10% of these figures if the stamps are in poor condition.

The post office had become so efficient by 1851 that Congress was able to reduce the common rate to three cents (which remained unchanged for over thirty years), necessitating a new issue of stamps. Values included a 1¢ profile of Franklin in blue, a 3¢ profile of Washington in red brown, a 5¢ portrait of Thomas Jefferson, and portraits of Washington for 10¢ green and 12¢ black values. The 1c stamp achieved notoriety, at least among philatelists, because production problems led to substantial plate modifications, and there are no less than seven major varieties, ranging in price from $100 to $200,000, and sharp-eyed collectors periodically find the rare types going unrecognized.

1857 saw the introduction of perforation, and in 1860 24¢, 30¢, and 90¢ values (with still more images of Washington and Franklin) were issued for the first time.

[edit] Civil War

~ Generals Lee and Jackson ~ Issue of 1937

~ Generals Sherman, Grant and Sheridan ~ Issue of 1965

The outbreak of the American Civil War threw the postal system into turmoil. On April 13, 1861 (the day after the firing on Fort Sumter) John H. Reagan, postmaster-general of the Confederate States of America, ordered local postmasters to return their US stamps to Washington DC (although it is unlikely that many did so), while in May the Union decided to withdraw and invalidate all existing US stamps, and to issue new stamps. Confederate post offices were left without legitimate stamps for several months, and while many reverted to the old system of cash payment at the post office, over one hundred post offices across the South came up with their own provisional issues. Many of these are quite rare, with only single examples surviving of some types. Eventually the Confederate government issued its own stamps; see stamps and postal history of the Confederate States.

In the North, the new stamp designs became available in August, and old stamps were accepted in exchange until the end of the year. The whole process was very confusing to the public, and there are number of covers from 1862 and later with 1857 stamps and bearing the marking “OLD STAMPS NOT RECOGNIZED”.

The “Black Jack”, 1863

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