29¢ Expanding Nation
National Postal Museum
Issue Date: July 30, 1993
City: Washington, DC
Printed By: American Bank Note Company
Printing Method: Lithographed and engraved
A great innovation, the method of sorting mail on a moving train developed just as railroads were connecting every corner of the country. In 1838 Congress approved an act designating all U.S. railroad routes as postal routes. A significant improvement over the traditional method of delivering mail by horse-drawn coaches, the railway service signaled the end of one era and the beginning of another.
Like many of the other changes the Post Office Department instituted, the railway service was created out of a desire to provide a faster and more reliable service to its patrons. Originally trains merely transported mail from one destination to another. However by 1862 “Railway Post Offices” or RPO’s had been created. As trains sped across the countryside, postal clerks sorted and dispatched mail on specially designed railroad cars.
Catcher arms at railway platforms enabled clerks to pick up mail sacks from towns as the train whizzed by. Sacks of letters destined for a town were tossed onto a platform from the moving train. The clerks took great pride in their work and could sort up to 600 pieces of mail an hour, and up until the mid-1900’s Railway Mail Service dominated the movement of the mail.