Rural Free Delivery (RFD) is a service that began in the United States in the late 19th century to deliver mail directly to rural farm families. Prior to RFD, individuals living in remote homesteads had to pick up mail themselves at sometimes distant post offices or pay private carriers for delivery (this fee was in addition to the postage paid by the mailer). RFD became a political football, with politicians promising it to voters and using it themselves to reach voters.
The proposal to offer free rural delivery was not universally embraced. Private carriers and local shopkeepers feared a loss of business. The United States Post Office Department began experiments with Rural Free Delivery as early as 1890. However, it was not until 1893 that Georgia Representative Thomas E. Watson pushed through legislation that mandated the practice. However, universal implementation was slow; RFD was not adopted generally in the United States Post Office until 1902. The rural delivery service has used a network of rural routes traveled by carriers to deliver mail to and pick it up from roadside mailboxes.
Until the late 19th century, residents of rural areas had to travel to a distant post office to pick up their mail or to pay for delivery by a private carrier. Postmaster General John Wanamaker, owner of a major department store, was ardently in favor of Rural Free Delivery (RFD), with many thousands of Americans living in rural communities who wanted to send and receive retail orders inexpensively.
However, the adoption of a nationwide RFD system had many opponents. Some were simply opposed to the cost of the service. Private express carriers thought inexpensive rural mail delivery would eliminate their business, and many town merchants worried the service would reduce farm families' weekly visits to town to obtain goods and merchandise or that mail order merchants selling through catalogs, such as Sears, Roebuck and Company, might present significant competition.
Support for the introduction of a nationwide rural mail delivery service came from The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the nation's oldest agricultural organization.
Fayette County in east-central Indiana claims to be the birthplace of Rural Free Delivery. Milton Trusler, a leading farmer in the county, began advocating the idea in 1880; as the president of the Indiana Grange, he spoke to farmers statewide frequently over the following 16 years.
The Post Office Department first experimented with the idea of rural mail delivery on October 1, 1891 to determine the viability of RFD. It began with five routes covering 10 miles, 33 years after free delivery in cities had begun. The first routes to receive RFD during its experimental phase were in Jefferson County, West Virginia, near Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla.
Legislation by US Representative Thomas E. Watson of Georgia mandated the practice, and RFD finally became an official service in 1896. That year, 82 rural routes were put into operation. A massive undertaking, nationwide RFD service took several years to implement, and remains the "biggest and most expensive endeavor" ever instituted by the U.S. postal service.
The service has grown steadily. By 1901, the mileage had increased to over 100,000; the cost was $1,750,321 and over 37,000 carriers were employed. In 1910, the mileage was 993,068; the cost was $36,915,000, and 40,997 carriers were employed. In 1913 came the introduction of parcel post delivery, which caused another boom in rural deliveries. Parcel post service allowed the distribution of national newspapers and magazines, and was responsible for millions of dollars of sales in mail-order merchandise to customers in rural areas. In 1930, 43,278 rural routes served about 6,875,321 families, about 25,471,735 persons, at a cost of $106,338,341. The Rural Post Roads Act of 1916 authorized federal funds for rural post roads.
The following is a list of the first rural routes established in each state, along with the names of the (up to three) post offices served and the date of establishment.
|Alabama||Opelika||December 7, 1896|
|Alaska||Nome||May 10, 1901|
|Arizona||Tempe||November 24, 1896|
|Arkansas||Clarksville||October 19, 1896|
|California||Campbell||February 1, 1897|
|Colorado||Loveland||November 10, 1896|
|Connecticut||Branford, Guilford, Milford||June 1, 1898|
|Delaware||Harrington||October 3, 1898|
|Anacostia, Bennings||September 1, 1902|
|Florida||Winter Park||January 1, 1898|
|Georgia||Quitman||December 8, 1896|
|Hawaii||Haiku||March 1, 1918|
|Idaho||Moscow||April 14, 1900|
|Illinois||Auburn||December 10, 1896|
|Indiana||Hartsville, Hope||October 15, 1896|
|Iowa||Morning Sun||November 10, 1896|
|Kansas||Bonner Springs||October 26, 1896|
|Kentucky||Allensville||January 11, 1897|
|Louisiana||Thibodaux||November 1, 1896|
|Maine||Gorham, Naples, Sebago Lake||November 23, 1896|
|Maryland||Westminster||October 15, 1896|
|November 2, 1896|
|Michigan||Climax||December 3, 1896|
|Minnesota||Farmington||January 1, 1897|
|Mississippi||Hickory||October 1, 1901|
|Missouri||Cairo||October 15, 1896|
|Montana||Billings||February 1, 1902|
|Nebraska||Tecumseh||November 7, 1896|
|Nevada||Lovelock||December 1, 1903|
|New Hampshire||Pittsfield||October 20, 1898|
|New Jersey||Moorestown||June 6, 1898|
|New Mexico||Roswell||March 1, 1902|
|New York||Elba||October 15, 1896|
|North Carolina||China Grove||October 23, 1896|
|North Dakota||Wahpeton||October 3, 1898|
|Ohio||Collinsville, Darrtown, Somerville||October 15, 1896|
|Oklahoma||Hennessey||August 15, 1900|
|Oregon||Turner||October 16, 1897|
|Pennsylvania||New Stanton, Ruffsdale||November 24, 1896|
|Rhode Island||South Portsmouth||January 1, 1899|
|South Carolina||Cope, Orangeburg, Saint George||March 1, 1899|
|South Dakota||Ellis||May 1, 1899|
|Tennessee||Atoka||January 11, 1897|
|Texas||Fate, La Grange||August 1, 1899|
|Utah||Murray||August 15, 1899|
|Vermont||Grand Isle||December 21, 1896|
|Virginia||Palmyra||October 22, 1896|
|Washington||North Yakima||April 1, 1897|
|West Virginia||Charles Town, Halltown, Uvilla||October 1, 1896|
|Wisconsin||Sun Prairie||November 16, 1896|
|Wyoming||Hilliard, Sheridan, Wheatland||October 15, 1900|
- Encyclopædia Britannica - Rural Free Delivery
- Historian United States Postal Service (May 2007). "Rural Free Delivery" (PDF). United States Postal Service. Retrieved April 17, 2011.
On October 1, 1890, Congress authorized funding of $10,000 to test the "practicability" of delivering mail to small towns, defined as those having populations of from 300 to 5,000 people, and nearby rural districts..
- "Rural Mailboxes". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
- Clark, Mary (Spring 2007). "Rural Free Delivery" (PDF). Dane County Historical Society Newsletter. Madison, WI 53711, US: Dane County Historical Society. 26 (1): 5–6. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-05-15.
Did You Know? 'Neither snow nor rain .....' Contrary to popular belief, the quote at the beginning of this article is not the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service. According to the Postal Service, this inscription was supplied by William Mitchell Kendall of the firm McKim, Mead & White, the architects who designed the New York General Post Office building in 1912. Kendall explained that the sentence appears in the works of Herodotus and describes the expedition of the Greeks against the Persians under Cyrus, about 500 B.C. The Persians operated a system of mounted postal couriers, and the sentence describes the fidelity with which their work was done.CS1 maint: location (link)
- Division of Historic Preservation and Archeology. Fayette County Interim Report. Indianapolis: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, 1981-07, xviii.
- "First Rural Routes by State". United States Postal Service. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
- Harry McKown (2006-10-31). "This Month in North Carolina History". University of North Carolina.
- "Parcel Post: Delivery of Dreams". Smithsonian Institution Libraries.
- Barron, Hal S. mixed harvest: The second great transformation in the rural north, 1870-1930 (U of North Carolina Press, 1997).
- Fuller, Wayne Edison. RFD, the changing face of rural America (1964), a standard scholarly history
- Kernell, Samuel, and Michael P. McDonald. "Congress and America's political development: The transformation of the post office from patronage to service." American Journal of Political Science 43#3 (1999), pp. 792–811 in JSTOR; online copy
- Perlman, Elisabeth Ruth, and Steven Sprick Schuster. "Delivering the Vote: The Political Effect of Free Mail Delivery in Early Twentieth Century America." Journal of Economic History 76.3 (2016): 769-802. online