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100-Year-Old Photos of People Delivering Mail

Jill Harness
Library of Congress // Public Domain
Library of Congress // Public Domain / Library of Congress // Public Domain
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While the job of a mail carrier might be largely the same as it was 100 years ago, the postal system itself has drastically changed over the past century. Here are some vintage photos, courtesy of The Library of Congress, that show how your mail used to travel in the early 1900s.

Inside the Post Office

Just like today (unless you use online postage or the Automated Postal Center), a package’s journey started at the post office window. While the technology used by the cashier has changed since 1925, it still involves scales, stamps and money.

Scenes from the dead letter office.
Scenes from the dead letter office. / Library of Congress, Public Domain // Wikimedia Commons

Just as today, when mailing addresses were found to be illegible, the packages and letters were sent to the dead letter department. While more machines are involved nowadays, back in 1917, the department had to rely on the ability of employees to decipher the addresses.

Mail wasn’t delivered across the country via small cars or on the backs of horses. At least, not after the railroad connected the coasts to one another. The mail trains were a critical part of the postal system in the early 1900s, although railroads are almost never used in our modern mail system.

In many ways, the inside of a mail train operated much like the back-end of a post office. Sacks of mail would be loaded onto the train and then dumped out for sorting.

The mail would be sorted based on destination, then re-bagged and unloaded at its appropriate destination. Here’s a group of gentlemen sorting out the mail in a rail car sometime around 1910.

Of course, in snowy areas, other modes of transportation were common. For example, here is a picture of a British Columbia mail team taken some time before 1930.

Once mail trucks started to become more common, though, certain modifications had to be made to accommodate vehicles for delivery in snowy weather. Here is a mail truck adapted to use extra wheels and special treads that was used in snowy Nevada County, California, in 1940, as photographed by Russell Lee.

And here are some of the first pilots to fly routes on the air mail service back in 1918.

Thought the Christmas mail rush was a new phenomenon? Think again. Here are three postal workers strapped with Christmas packages, photographed sometime between 1910 and 1915.

If you like these pictures, head over to The Library of Congress and do a search for “mail.” There are hundreds of pictures featuring mailmen, mail trains and more.

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