Arago: Exhibits

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Driving into the 20th Century

Ford Model T Automobile

A Central Square, NY, carrier used a “Snowbird” kit to turn his Model-T Ford into a ski-mobile.

For rural carriers who were already carrying the financial burden of a wagon and horses, the notice that they needed to purchase an automobile to keep their jobs was unwelcome news. Examinations of the Congressional Record of 1916 and RFD files at the National Archives and Records Administration show complaints from hundreds of carriers across the country. Even patrons wrote to complain about the switch. In some cases, they were asked to relocate their mailboxes and change their address as new routes switched road access. An Iowa carrier complained that even though he had switched to using an automobile on his new 50-mile long route, weather forced him to use horse and wagon for the majority of the year. Not a hardship on the old 24-mile long route, but now he had to cover twice the ground, and in bad weather!

Not one to back down, Burleson ignored these complaints and continued to advocate for the new automobile service. Fortunately for the carriers, who by this time had formed a lobbying association (the National Rural Letter Carriers Association, or NRLCA), Congress took pity on their plight and removed Burleson’s power to reorganize and classify rural routes. They then created two types of routes, a horse-drawn route that would be 24-miles long, and an automobile route 50-miles in length. In addition, a new motor route could only be established if a majority of families along the route petitioned for the change.