An expressman (pl. expressmen) refers to anyone who has the duty of packing, managing, and ensuring the delivery of any cargo.
During the 19th century, an expressman was someone whose responsibility it was to ensure the safe delivery of a train's gold or currency, which was secured in the "express car". This job included guarding the safe or other strongboxes or coffers against outlaws, and memorizing the safe's combination until delivery.
The function of the expressman was precipitated by stage-coach drivers and baggage-wagoners, who for decades performed many of the tasks that would be later formalized under the title expressman. They were initially referred to as conductors owing to their role in managing all or part of the express rail car, with the specific title expressman coming later. As express services matured into an industry the tasks of stage-coach driver were divided up into specific professions such as driver, expressman, agent, clerk, and others, rendering them outmoded. Many of the stage-coach Drivers transitioned into the express industry and became expressmen, some even becoming agents, managers and company owners.
Expressman in The United States
The express industry came about with the onset of The Industrial Revolution. It served a vital role in enabling companies to do business at regional and national levels. This gave rise to the importance of the expressman, not only as a courier, but as a highly ethical agent of currency, documents and other high-value items.
The inherent danger in their job led some to arm themselves. On major routes whole passenger cars were reserved for expressman, mainly for their security as they would sit away from others as much as possible. In one such car an expressman was shot in the head three times and was robbed by a man pretending to be an expressman. He survived, and later aided the prosecution of his attacker. On some routes serial robberies were a serious concern, and the expressmen would sometimes be accompanied by armed men for additional security, some enlisting the well known Pinkerton Agency.
Expressmen in Europe
The success in America was quickly imported to Europe, where Harnden & Co. established the Liverpool to Paris line, thus bringing the role of expressman with it. Within a decade express routes had been extended to most principal cities on the European Continent.
The 20th Century and Decline
Expressman as a profession in the United States continued until the nationalization of railroads in 1914. They were replaced by already common Postal Workers and eventually Parcel Workers. There is also an occasional use of special freight conductors who to this day will ride with trains to insure the care and security of special cargo, but beyond that have little resemblance to the expressman.
Expressmen in Literature
Expressmen make an appearance in Mark Twain's short tale, "The Invalid's Story."
- Lovett, A (1858). History of the Express Companies and the Origin of American Railroads. Second Edition.
- Pinkerton, A (1874). The Expressman and the Detective. W. B. KEEN, COOKE & CO.
- Tucker, T.W. (1891). Waifs from the Way-Bills. Lee & Shepard Publishers.