Mail chute

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Inactive mail chutes in the Empire State Building
Active mail chute in the Law Building, Akron, Ohio

A mail chute is a largely defunct letter collection device used in early multi-storey office buildings, hotels, apartment buildings and other high rise structures. Letters were dropped from the upper storeys and collected (usually at the ground level) at a central depository by the postal service. This innovation was before the time of the modern mailroom normally associated nowadays with high rise buildings. It was for the convenience of the users of the building so they would not have to take their mail to an outside mail box or to the post office.[1]

Original design and usage[edit]

James Goold Cutler received U.S. Patent 284,951 on September 11, 1883 for the mail chute.[2] The first one was installed in 1884 in the Elwood Building in Rochester, New York.[3] Cutler ultimately received thirty patents for variations of his invention. The original approved patent No. 284,951 design stated that it must "be of metal, distinctly marked U.S. Letter Box," and that the "door must open on hinges on one side, with the bottom of the door not less than 2'6" above the floor." If the building were more than two stories tall, the collection box was to be outfitted with a cushion to prevent injury to the mail. The mail chutes had to be accessible along its entire length so lodged mail could be removed.[3]

The first experimental "Cutler mail chute" device was successful at the Elwood Building so later it was installed in two New York City office buildings. Additional ones were then installed in railroad stations and some public buildings as a test. Eventually Cutler Mail Box produced over 1,600 such devices in buildings over the next twenty years.[2] Then the postal service allowed "Cutler mail chutes" to be placed in hotels taller than five storeys. They were also installed in public apartment buildings of more than fifty apartments.[3]

It was announced on Sunday, May 9, 1909, by The New York Times, "Cutler and Other Companies Join in a $2,000,000 Corporation".[3]

It is possible for clogs to form in a mail chute.[3] For two weeks in 1986, more than 40,000 letters accumulated in the mail chute of the McGraw-Hill Building in New York City.[4] In 1999, a spokesperson for the New York district of the Postal Service claimed that the service responded to two or three calls to clear stuck mail chutes every week.[4]

Current use[edit]

In more recent decades, buildings such as Chicago's John Hancock Center, the Chrysler Building, and the old RCA Building in New York City have shut down their chutes.[2] The reason is the increase of modern mail rooms in the building lobby with associated mail boxes available for the building tenants.[citation needed] There remain, however, about 360 buildings in Chicago with mail chutes, and more than 900 active chutes exist in Manhattan and the Bronx of New York City alone, as well as elsewhere.[5] Since 1997, however, the National Fire Protection Association has banned mail chutes in all new building construction. Buildings currently using mail chutes include the Chanin Building, Trinity Building, Empire State Building, and the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, as well as the Lenox Hotel in Back Bay, Boston.[citation needed]

Other installations[edit]

The London Transport HQ at 55 Broadway had a system installed. The chute slot for 'London & Abroad' mail plate says 'Cutler Mailing-System Cutler-Mail-Chute-Co Rochester,NY,USA'.(As shown BBC 'Art Deco Icons: London Transport' TV programme aired Nov 09.) The 14-story Richmond Trust Company Building (629 E. Main St., Richmond, VA)[a.k.a. Southern States Building or Virginia Department of Environmental Health Building], completed in 1922, has an inactive Cutler mail chute system. Hotel Saskatchewan in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada still has an operational mail cutler system. Stelco Tower in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, completed in 1972, also has an operational mail chute; a rare example of a mail chute in a modern skyscraper.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "National Postal Museum, a Smithsonian Institution museum - Cutler Mail Box & Chute". Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  2. ^ a b c Overfelt, Maggie (2003-04-01). "CNNMoney article - Gone but Not (Quite) Forgotten". Retrieved 2008-09-19.
  3. ^ a b c d e "MAIL CHUTE MEN IN MERGER.; Cutler and Other Companies Join in a $2,000,000 Corporation". The New York Times. 1909-05-09. Retrieved 2009-02-20.
  4. ^ a b Schneider, Daneil B. (9 May 1999). "F.Y.I." The New York Times. Retrieved 7 November 2013.
  5. ^ Spencer, Luke. "New York City's Mail Chutes are Lovely, Ingenious and Almost Entirely Ignored". Atlas Obscura. Retrieved 5 November 2015.