Rural Free Delivery wagon model
“The Postman” is one of five quarter-sized specimen wagons built by the Terre Haute Carriage and Wagon Company in the late nineteenth century for the Post Office Department’s Rural Free Delivery (RFD) service. This is one of two Rural Free Delivery wagon models produced by the company for the Department that is the in National Postal Museum’s collections (the other is #0.052985.277). A working model, it has the sliding doors and windows of the finished product. According to company advertising “The Postman” also had “Sarven, non-malleable wheels, cushion springs, and a 1,000 mile long-distance axle.” The four-wheeled wagon was designed to be used with either one or two horses, was equipped with sliding doors and “storm proof” windows, built-in drawers for holding postal supplies and pigeonholes for mail. The wagons, made from hickory and ash with poplar panels, were painted by hand.
In 1899 the company, located in Terre Haute, Indiana, created these quarter-size working models for use by the Department in helping to convince the US Congress to increase appropriations for rural mail service. RFD, which began as an experiment in October 1896, did not become a permanent service until 1902. When the company built the wagon models, they were investing in the Department’s long-term success in hopes of creating a new market for their goods.
The company ran a series of advertisements for “The Postman” in rural publications. Rural carriers responsible for providing their own equipment were the company’s target audience. Summer ads touted the wagon as ready for “straw berry, straw hat and wheat straw weather” while winter ads noted that the wagon was perfect for “cold, chilly, freezing” winter. The 1903 winter ad boasted that “all weathers are alike when you roll along the highway in the 1903 POSTMAN–the old reliable—the first completely costly RFD Wagon—the wagon the cheap factories are trying to imitate.”
RFD News, (Chicago), September 11, 1903, 431; April 24, 1903, 234.