This Day in History… October 1, 1885

Special Delivery Service Begins

U.S. #E1 is one of the few U.S. stamps to be modeled after a living person.

U.S. #E1 is one of the few U.S. stamps to be modeled after a living person.

On October 1, 1885, the Special Delivery service was first available and the first stamp, U.S. #E1, went on sale.

Assistant Postmaster General Frank Hatton first proposed the Special Delivery Service in 1883. At the time, the Postal Service delivered twice a day in major cities. Private companies were used for urgent business mail that couldn’t wait for those scheduled deliveries. Hatton believed the companies were cutting into the Postal Service’s profits. On March 3, 1885, Congress approved the Special Delivery Service Act.

The Special Delivery stamps are larger than postage stamps, so busy postal clerks could easily recognize them. The stamps were issued on October 1, 1885, and pictured a running messenger boy. Used in addition to the regular service required, this stamp paid for an extra service – the immediate delivery of a letter within one mile of any other Special Delivery post office.

Originally, Special Delivery offices were located only in cities with populations over 4,000. However, the venture was such a success, the service was extended to all areas in October 1886.

U.S. #E2 – While it looks similar, this stamp has slightly different wording, stating that it “secures immediate delivery at any post office.”

U.S. #E2 – While it looks similar, this stamp has slightly different wording, stating that it “secures immediate delivery at any post office.”

Because the first Special Delivery stamp bore the inscription “Secures immediate delivery at a special delivery office,” the stamp needed to be revised when this new act was put into effect. On September 6, 1888, a revised stamp bearing the inscription “Secures immediate delivery at any post office” was issued.

The trademark of these new Special Delivery stamps was the running post office messenger, who was often referred to as the “running speedy boy.” Interestingly, he is one of the few postal figures who was modeled after a living person. In order to get the proper running action, the engraver Charles Skinner used his young nephew, Frederick Pauling, as a model.

During one session, Mr. Skinner was so engrossed in his work he didn’t realize the length of time the boy was forced to stand on one foot. Eventually, young Frederick became completely exhausted and collapsed to the floor! In 1902, the design was changed to picture a young messenger riding a bicycle. Designer R. Ostrander Smith used himself as the model for this stamp.

U.S. #E1-23 – Complete set of 23 Special Delivery stamps.

U.S. #E1-23 – Complete set of 23 Special Delivery stamps.

In the days when few people owned phones and the invention of the Internet was in the distant future, sending a letter by Special Delivery was the best way to get an urgent message to someone in a short time. The last Special Delivery stamp was issued in 1971. By that time, the quality of service and the need for Special Delivery were in decline. Today, Priority Mail and Express Mail have taken the place of Special Delivery services.

Also on This Day in History… October 1, 1896
The Start of Rural Free Delivery

U.S. #3090 was issued for the 100th anniversary of Rural Free Delivery.

U.S. #3090 was issued for the 100th anniversary of Rural Free Delivery.

During the 1800s, Americans in rural areas lived in great isolation. There were no telephones, radios, or televisions. Farmers and other country-dwelling Americans communicated by mail. However, getting to a post office to send and receive mail was difficult. Most people in rural areas only traveled to the post office once every few weeks. For the millions of families living on farms, miles from the nearest town and post office, mail was a sometime thing, a special event.

A group of influential Georgians, used to modern communications, hired their own private carrier who worked a scheduled route for more than 40 years. This Norwood, Georgia, carrier became the model and inspiration for the RFD plan introduced to Congress in 1893. While rural mail services were being tested in communities in 28 states in 1895, groups of 100 families were allowed to petition for future service.

U.S. #3090 FDC – Rural Free Delivery First Day Cover.

U.S. #3090 FDC – Rural Free Delivery First Day Cover.

Then major progress came on October 1, 1896, with the introduction of Rural Free Delivery. Postmaster General William L. Wilson created the first Rural Free Delivery services in the West Virginia towns of Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla. Rural Free Delivery revolutionized country living, allowing farmers to receive daily newspapers. Also, the establishment of Parcel Post led to mail order firms. Rural Free Delivery quickly spread across the country.

U.S. #1903 from the Transportation Series.

U.S. #1903 from the Transportation Series.

The creation of Rural Free Delivery led to the use of the Mail Wagon. The carriers who delivered mail to homes and businesses became a traveling post office where patrons could buy stamps, register their mail, and even purchase money orders. Trained horses could go between stops without much attention from the driver, leaving his hands free to sort and postmark mail. The mobile post offices of the early rural carriers opened the world to millions of Americans.

By 1901, rural routes served 1.8 million people; by 1920, most rural communities received postal service. Today, rural mail carriers deliver the mail on over 54,400 routes every day – that’s 2.7 million miles of routes, with 24.7 million delivery points.

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