This Day in History… October 1, 1885

U.S. #E1 – The trademark of the Special Delivery stamps was the running post office messenger, who was often referred to as the “running speedy boy.” He is one of the few postal figures who was modeled after a living person. During one session, the engraver was so engrossed in his work he didn’t realize the length of time the boy was forced to stand on one foot. Eventually, the boy became completely exhausted and collapsed to the floor.

Special Delivery Service Begins

On October 1, 1885, the Special Delivery service made its debut, and the U.S. Postal Department issued a 10¢ stamp to inaugurate its new service. Used in addition to the regular postage required, this stamp paid for an extra service – the immediate delivery of a letter within one mile of any other Special Delivery post office.

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. 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.

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.

Today we have a bonus piece of history – it’s also the anniversary of the start of Rural Free Delivery! 

U.S. #3090 – The carriers who delivered mail to homes and businesses became traveling post offices 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.

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.

This situation began to change 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 lead to mail-order firms. Rural Free Delivery quickly spread across the country.

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.

Click the images to discover more history and add them to your collection.

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