Arago: Exhibits


Bringing the World Home

Long after city dwellers first enjoyed free home mail delivery in 1863, rural Americans still traveled to their local post office to pick up their mail. At a time when the majority of Americans lived in rural areas, only the minority who lived in cities were able to receive free home mail delivery. Rural Americans continued to ride or walk considerable distances over ill kept dirt roads pockmarked with potholes in dry seasons or muddy swamps after rains, all with no assurance that there would be mail waiting for them.

As postage rates were the same for city and rural delivery, farm families argued that the system was unfair. Organizations such as the National Grange, the National Farmers’ Congress and State Farmers’ Alliance were all pushing for a free rural delivery system by the early 1890s. The struggle pitted farmer and rural associations against some Members of Congress who feared providing free delivery for the nation’s still rural-based population would be too expensive.

Rural Free Delivery carrier with horse and wagon
Photographer: Unknown
Date created: c. 1905
An unidentified rural carrier posed with his horse and wagon. The wagon is marked Rural Route #2, but the museum has no information to indicate the location of either town or state.
National Postal Museum, Curatorial Photographic Collection