Rural Free Delivery (RFD) is a service which began in the United States in the late 19th century, to deliver mail directly to rural farm families. Prior to RFD, individuals living in more remote homesteads had to pick up mail themselves at sometimes distant post offices or pay private carriers for delivery (this fee was in addition to the postage paid by the mailer). RFD became a political football, with politicians promising it to voters and using it themselves to reach voters. The proposal to offer free rural delivery was not universally embraced. Private carriers and local shopkeepers feared a loss of business. The United States Post Office Department began experiments with Rural Free Delivery as early as 1890. However, it was not until 1893, when Georgia Congressman Thomas E. Watson pushed through legislation, that the practice was mandated. However, universal implementation was slow; RFD was not adopted generally in the United States Post Office until 1902. The rural delivery service uses a network of rural routes traveled by carriers to deliver and pick up mail to and from roadside mailboxes.
Until the late 19th century, residents of rural areas had to either travel to a distant post office to pick up their mail, or else pay for delivery by a private carrier. Postmaster General John Wanamaker, owner of a major department store, was ardently in favor of Rural Free Delivery (RFD), with many thousands of Americans living in rural communities who wanted to send and receive retail orders inexpensively. However, the adoption of a nationwide RFD system had many opponents. Some were simply opposed to the cost of the service. Private express carriers thought inexpensive rural mail delivery would eliminate their business, and many town merchants worried the service would reduce farm families' weekly visits to town to obtain goods and merchandise, or that mail order merchants selling through catalogs, such as Sears, Roebuck and Company might present significant competition.
Support for the introduction of a nationwide rural mail delivery service came from The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the nation's oldest agricultural organization.
Fayette County in east-central Indiana claims to be the birthplace of Rural Free Delivery. Milton Trusler, a leading farmer in the county, began advocating the idea in 1880; as the president of the Indiana Grange, he spoke to farmers statewide frequently over the following sixteen years.
The Post Office Department first experimented with the idea of rural mail delivery on October 1, 1891 to determine the viability of RFD. They began with five routes covering ten miles, 33 years after free delivery in cities had begun. The first routes to receive RFD during its experimental phase were in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla.
Legislation by U.S. Congressman Thomas E. Watson of Georgia mandated the practice, and RFD finally became an official service in 1896. That year, 82 rural routes were put into operation. A massive undertaking, nationwide RFD service took several years to implement, and remains the "biggest and most expensive endeavor" ever instituted by the U.S. postal service.
The service has grown steadily. By 1901, the mileage had increased to over 100,000; the cost was $1,750,321 and over 37,000 carriers were employed. In 1910 the mileage was 993,068; cost $36,915,000; carriers 40,997. In 1913 came the introduction of parcel post delivery, which caused another boom in rural deliveries. Parcel post service allowed the distribution of national newspapers and magazines, and was responsible for millions of dollars of sales in mail-order merchandise to customers in rural areas. In 1930 there were 43,278 rural routes serving about 6,875,321 families--that is about 25,471,735 persons. The cost was $106,338,341. In 1916, the Rural Post "Good" Roads Act authorized federal funds for rural post roads.
The following is a list of the first rural routes established in each state, along with the names of the (up to three) Post Offices served and the date of establishment.
|Alabama||Opelika||December 7, 1896|
|Alaska||Nome||May 10, 1901|
|Arizona||Tempe||November 24, 1896|
|Arkansas||Clarksville||October 19, 1896|
|California||Campbell||February 1, 1897|
|Colorado||Loveland||November 10, 1896|
|Connecticut||Branford, Guilford, Milford||June 1, 1898|
|Delaware||Harrington||October 3, 1898|
|Anacostia, Bennings||September 1, 1902|
|Florida||Winter Park||January 1, 1898|
|Georgia||Quitman||December 8, 1896|
|Hawaii||Haiku||March 1, 1918|
|Idaho||Moscow||April 14, 1900|
|Illinois||Auburn||December 10, 1896|
|Indiana||Hartsville, Hope||October 15, 1896|
|Iowa||Morning Sun||November 10, 1896|
|Kansas||Bonner Springs||October 26, 1896|
|Kentucky||Allensville||January 11, 1897|
|Louisiana||Thibodaux||November 1, 1896|
|Maine||Gorham, Naples, Sebago Lake||November 23, 1896|
|Maryland||Westminster||October 15, 1896|
|Massachusetts||Bernardston, Greenfield||November 2, 1896|
|Michigan||Climax||December 3, 1896|
|Minnesota||Farmington||January 1, 1897|
|Mississippi||Hickory||October 1, 1901|
|Missouri||Cairo||October 15, 1896|
|Montana||Billings||February 1, 1902|
|Nebraska||Tecumseh||November 7, 1896|
|Nevada||Lovelock||December 1, 1903|
|New Hampshire||Pittsfield||October 20, 1898|
|New Jersey||Moorestown||June 6, 1898|
|New Mexico||Roswell||March 1, 1902|
|New York||Elba||October 15, 1896|
|North Carolina||China Grove||October 23, 1896|
|North Dakota||Wahpeton||October 3, 1898|
|Ohio||Collinsville, Darrtown, Somerville||October 15, 1896|
|Oklahoma||Hennessey||August 15, 1900|
|Oregon||Turner||October 16, 1897|
|Pennsylvania||New Stanton, Ruffsdale||November 24, 1896|
|Rhode Island||South Portsmouth||January 1, 1899|
|South Carolina||Cope, Orangeburg, Saint George||March 1, 1899|
|South Dakota||Ellis||May 1, 1899|
|Tennessee||Atoka||January 11, 1897|
|Texas||Fate, La Grange||August 1, 1899|
|Utah||Murray||August 15, 1899|
|Vermont||Grand Isle||December 21, 1896|
|Virginia||Palmyra||October 22, 1896|
|Washington||North Yakima||April 1, 1897|
|West Virginia||Charles Town, Halltown, Uvilla||October 1, 1896|
|Wisconsin||Sun Prairie||November 16, 1896|
|Wyoming||Hilliard, Sheridan, Wheatland||October 15, 1900|
On October 1, 1890, Congress authorized funding of $10,000 to test the "practicability" of delivering mail to small towns, defined as those having populations of from 300 to 5,000 people, and nearby rural districts..
Did You Know? 'Neither snow nor rain .....' Contrary to popular belief, the quote at the beginning of this article is not the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service. According to the Postal Service, this inscription was supplied by William Mitchell Kendall of the firm McKim, Mead & White, the architects who designed the New York General Post Office building in 1912. Kendall explained that the sentence appears in the works of Herodotus and describes the expedition of the Greeks against the Persians under Cyrus, about 500 B.C. The Persians operated a system of mounted postal couriers, and the sentence describes the fidelity with which their work was done.
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