Rural Free Delivery
Rural Free Delivery (RFD) is a service which began in the United States in the late 19th century, to deliver mail directly to rural farm families. Prior to RFD, individuals living in more remote homesteads had to pick up mail themselves at sometimes distant post offices or pay private carriers for delivery. The proposal to offer free rural delivery was not universally embraced. Private carriers and local shopkeepers feared a loss of business. The postal service began experiments with Rural Free Delivery as early as 1890. However, it was not until 1893, when Georgia Congressman Thomas E. Watson pushed through legislation, that the practice was mandated. However, universal implimentation was slow, RFD was not adopted generally in the United States Post Office until 1902. The rural delivery service uses a network of rural routes traveled by carriers to deliver and pick up mail to and from roadside mailboxes.
Until the late 19th century, residents of rural areas had to either travel to a distant post office to pick up their mail, or else pay for delivery by a private carrier. Postmaster General John Wanamaker was ardently in favor of Rural Free Delivery (RFD), as it was originally called, along with many thousands of Americans living in rural communities who wanted to send and receive mail inexpensively. However, the adoption of a nationwide RFD system had many opponents. Some were simply opposed to the cost of the service. Private express carriers thought inexpensive rural mail delivery would eliminate their business, and many town merchants worried the service would reduce farm families' weekly visits to town to obtain goods and merchandise, or that mail order merchants selling through catalogs, such as Sears, Roebuck and Company might present significant competition.
Much support for the introduction of a nationwide rural mail delivery service came from the The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the nation's oldest agricultural organization.
Fayette County in east-central Indiana may be the birthplace of Rural Free Delivery. Milton Trusler, a leading farmer in the county, began advocating the idea in 1880; as the president of the Indiana Grange, he spoke to farmers statewide frequently over the following sixteen years.
The Post Office Department first experimented with the idea of rural mail delivery on October 1, 1891 to determine the viability of RFD. They began with five routes covering ten miles, 33 years after free delivery in cities had begun. The first routes to receive RFD during its experimental phase were in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla.
Legislation by U.S. Congressman Thomas E. Watson of Georgia mandated the practice, and RFD finally became an official service in 1896. That year, 82 rural routes were put into operation. A massive undertaking, nationwide RFD service took several years to implement, and remains the "biggest and most expensive endeavor" ever instituted by the U.S. postal service.
The service has grown steadily. By 1901, the mileage had increased to over 100,000; the cost was $1,750,321 and over 37,000 carriers were employed. In 1910 the mileage was 993,068; cost $36,915,000; carriers 40,997. In 1913 came the introduction of parcel post delivery, which caused another boom in rural deliveries. Parcel post service allowed the distribution of national newspapers and magazines, and was responsible for millions of dollars of sales in mail-order merchandise to customers in rural areas. In 1930 there were 43,278 rural routes serving about 6,875,321 families—that is about 25,471,735 persons. The cost was $106,338,341. In 1916, the Rural Post "Good" Roads Act authorized federal funds for rural post roads.
The following is a list of the first rural routes established in each state, along with the names of the (up to three) Post Offices served and the date of establishment.
|Connecticut||Branford, Guilford, Milford||06/01/1898|
|Maine||Gorham, Naples, Sebago Lake||11/23/1896|
|North Carolina||China Grove||10/23/1896|
|Ohio||Collinsville, Darrtown, Somerville||10/15/1896|
|Pennsylvania||New Stanton, Ruffsdale||11/24/1896|
|Rhode Island||South Portsmouth||01/01/1899|
|South Carolina||Cope, Orangeburg, Saint George||03/01/1899|
|Texas||Fate, La Grange||08/01/1899|
|West Virginia||Charles Town, Halltown, Uvilla||10/01/1896|
|Wyoming||Hilliard, Sheridan, Wheatland||10/15/1900|
- Encylopedia Britannica - Rural Free Delivery
- Historian United States Postal Service (May 2007). "Rural Free Delivery". United States Postal Service. Retrieved April 17, 2011. "On October 1, 1890, Congress authorized funding of $10,000 to test the “practicability” of delivering mail to small towns, defined as those having populations of from 300 to 5,000 people, and nearby rural districts.."
- "Rural Mailboxes". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2008-11-07.
- "Rural Free Delivery". Morning Star. Albion Design and Marketing. 2001-12-30.
- Mary Clark (Spring 2007, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 5-6). "Rural Free Delivery". Dane County Historical Society Newsletter.
- Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology. Fayette County Interim Report. Indianapolis: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 1981-07, xviii.
- Harry McKown (2006-10-31). "This Month in North Carolina History". This Month in North Carolina History. University of North Carolina.
- "Parcel Post: Delivery of Dreams". Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
- "First Rural Routes by State". United States Postal Service. Retrieved 2010-04-12.