The 3-cent Handcar was issued at the ROPEX stamp show in Rochester, New York, on March 25, 1983. Like the 1-cent and 2-cent values, the Handcar was intended as a change-maker in vending machines rather than to pay a particular postal rate. There were only 77,900 first day covers cancelled.
During the 1880s, Bucyrus Foundry and Manufacturing Company of Bucyrus, Ohio, manufactured the handcar shown on the stamp. Railroad crews used the handcar when fixing the line or carrying small quantities of supplies over short distances.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing issued 184 million 3-cent Handcar stamps in coils of five hundred and three thousand, all with overall tagging. The Contrell press plate numbers appear on every 24th stamp. Plates 1, 2, 3, and 4 were used. The stamps were withdrawn from philatelic sale on August 31, 1988, although they could still be purchased at some post offices for another ten years or more.
Walter Brooks of Norwalk, Connecticut, designed the stamp, which Clarence Holbert of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing modeled. Edward P. Archer engraved the vignette, and Thomas J. Bakos engraved the lettering. Both worked at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing.