Arago: Exhibits

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Carriers' Burdens

Rural Free Delivery carrier in Greenfield, Indiana 
Photographer: Unknown
Date created: c. 1905
Rural Free Delivery carrier in his wagon. The wagon is marked Greenfield / RFD / No. 5 / U.S. Mail. Route number five is one of four established out of the Greenfield, Indiana, post office on September 1, 1905. 
National Postal Museum, Curatorial Photographic Collection

Rural letter carriers differed from city carriers in both look and operation. Rural carriers were not required to wear uniforms, although some purchased badges or other uniform pieces on their own. And unlike city carriers, rural letter carriers were required to purchase, operate, and maintain their own transportation. This meant not only purchasing the wagon (and sled in cold climates), but also buying and feeding the horse(s) needed to pull the wagon or sled.

The first carriers used the vehicles they had at hand, wagons quickly crafted by local carpenters, or wagons drawn up to early Post Office Department specifications by manufacturers eager to tap a potentially lucrative new market.

Rural carriers were not well paid in comparison to their city brethren. In 1897 rural carriers made an annual salary of $300, at least $500 less than city carriers at the time. From that salary a carrier might have to pay on the bank loan needed to buy the mail wagon, the cost of purchasing a horse, blankets and harness, blacksmith’s bills and feed each month, veterinary services and wagon repairs. One carrier noted in 1902 that after the year’s bills were paid, his annual salary amounted to $25.