Monday, February 4, 2013

#UnitedStates First Mail Carrier

Her Appointed Rounds by David Lee Pardue

February 4

Thank A Mailman 

We are mothers and fathers. And sons and daughters. 
Who every day go about our lives with duty, honor and pride. 
And neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night,
 nor the winds of change, nor a nation challenged, 
will stay us from the swift completion of our appointed rounds. 

Founded on July 26, 1775 by the  Second Continental Congress, the United States Postal Service is one of the oldest federal agencies in the United States. It has had a long and interesting history that you can read about here

Despite the longevity of the United States Postal Service the idea of having your mail delivered to your house was not something the Postal Service had been created to do. The postage paid was only used to pay the cost to have the letter mailed from post office to post office.  If citizens wanted their mail they had to go to the Post Office and pick it up from the postal clerk. Some cities did allow private businesses to charge homes to have their mail delivered. This was common practice until 1863 when  Joseph Williams Briggs revolutionized the post service with his idea of implementing free home delivery of all mail. 

The Birth of the Mailman
Joseph William Briggs
Joseph William Briggs was born on July 2, 1813 in Claremont, N.Y and was raised by his uncle, the governor of Massachusetts, George Nixon Briggs.  In 1836, Joseph married Harmony Gilmore. The couple had nine children together - Mary, Nancy, Rufus, Laura, Alfred, Isabella, Emma, Leonard, and Kate.

 Joseph was hired as a postal clerk and was assigned to Cleveland, Ohio's first post office during the early 1860's. His job was a vital one for all the wives, mother, sisters and daughters of the soldiers who were fighting in the Civil War as the post office was their only means of communicating with their loved ones.  Each week on "Army Day" the women would gather at the post office to pick up these precious letters. 

The winter of 1862 was a bitter one in Cleveland, Ohio and the Civil War was at it's highest peak. The women of Cleveland gathered in long lines in front of the post office waiting for a letter from their loved one on a bleak "Army Day". A compassionate man, Joseph's heart broke watching the women suffer in the bitter cold. As he handed their letters to them he came up with an idea. Why not have the letters delivered to their homes instead of asking the women to wait in long lines? Joseph wrote a letter to the Postmaster General Montgomery Blair explaining in detail his idea for a free mail delivery. The Postmaster liked the idea and relayed it to President Lincoln in his 1862 report. Montgomery reasoned that if the United States were to implement salaried mail carriers it would "greatly accelerate deliveries and promote public conveniences." If mail was more convenient then people would use it more often thus allowing the postal service to obtain a rise in revenue. England had already seen an increase in revenue by implementing free city mail deliveries. If it worked over there then why couldn't it work in the United States? President Lincoln liked the idea. Joseph William Briggs was given permission to experiment with a free city mail delivery service from his postal station in Cleveland, Ohio.

The First Mail Delivery
Once Joseph learned his experiment had been approved he immediately went to work. He spoke to shop owners and neighbors to learn how they would like their mail to be delivered. After developing his routes he developed a method of sorting all the mail so it would be easier to deliver. Joseph would separate the main into paper bags, loaded the bags into a basket then set out for his personal deliveries. He delivered not only to homes but businesses as well. His only problem was that some of the streets in Cleveland had duplicate names or no names at all. Houses weren't numbered, either. Two streets were named Lincoln. Residents on both streets wanted to keep the name because it honored their wartime president. In an effort to create order out of chaos, Joseph renamed one of the streets Abraham. Not all Cleveland citizens were happy with Joseph's new system. The private businesses who had been charging people so they could deliver their mail saw a decline in their profits. They eventually went out of business.

Joseph's experiment with free mail delivery was a huge success. On March 3, 1863, Congress passed an act stipulating free mail delivery should be established in all postal stations where the local revenue was more than sufficient to do so. The act went into effect on July 1, 1863. 

You can read more about the history of the Postal Office Letter Carriers at 


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