You Got Mail!
iPhoneOgraphy – 24 Mar 2016 (Day 84/366)
In 1863, with the creation of Free City Delivery, the US Post Office Department began delivering mail to home addresses. Until 1916, mail carriers knocked on the door and waited patiently for someone to answer. Efficiency experts estimated that each mailman lost over 1.5 hours each day just waiting for patrons to come to the door. To correct this problem, the Post Office Department ordered that every household must have a mail box or letter slot in order to receive mail. Slowly, homeowners and businesses began to install mail slots or attached mailboxes to receive mail when they were either not at home or unable to answer the door.
As early as the 1880s, the Post Office had begun to encourage homeowners to attach wall-mounted mailboxes to the outside of their houses in lieu of mail slots. Mounted at the height of a standing man, attached mailboxes did not require the mail carrier to lean over to deposit the mail. They also allowed the homeowner to keep outgoing mail dry while awaiting pickup by the mail carrier.
To reduce the time required for the mail carrier to complete delivery when the front door of a home was located some distance from the street, it was proposed that individual mail boxes for residential or business customers be mounted curbside on fence-posts, lamp-posts, or other supports. While this idea was rejected for city mail delivery, it was adopted for rural areas. Curbside mailboxes located on a rural route or road and sited at the intersection of the road with each recipient’s carriageway or private drive allowed limited numbers of mail carriers to deliver mail to many widely scattered farms and ranches in a single day using horse-drawn wagons or later on, motor vehicles.
Before the introduction of rural free delivery (RFD) by the Post Office in 1896, and in Canada in 1908, many rural residents had no access to the mail unless they collected it at a post office located many miles from their homes or hired a private express company to deliver it. For this reason, mailboxes did not become popular in rural North America until curbside RFD mail delivery by the Post Office was an established service. Even then, farmers and rural homeowners at first resisted the purchase of dedicated mailboxes, preferring to leave empty bushel baskets, tin boxes, or wooden crates at the roadside for the postman to deposit their mail. Not until 1923 did the Post Office finally mandate that every household install a mailbox or mail slot in order to receive home delivery of mail.
Originally designed only for incoming mail delivery, curbside mailboxes were soon fitted with a semaphore or signal flag mounted on an attached arm to signal the postman to pickup outgoing mail. Originally, this flag was raised not only by the resident of the property to signal the postman of outgoing mail, but also by the postman to inform the recipient that incoming mail had been delivered – a convenience to all during periods of freezing or inclement weather.
In 1915, the familiar curbside Joroleman mailbox, named after its designer, Post Office employee Roy J. Joroleman, was approved by the Post Office. Joroleman, who held a degree in mechanical engineering, designed his mailbox with an unusual dome-rectangular shape, incorporating a curved, tunnel-shaped roof, latching door, and rotating semaphore flag. The Joroleman mailbox has been praised as a manifestation of American functionalist industrial design.
Constructed of light-gauge painted sheet steel, Joroleman designed his mailbox with an arched, tunnel-shape roof, which prevented excessive accumulation of rainwater or snow while resisting deformation. The tunnel top also simplified the process of mass production by eliminating the need for precise sheet metal bends. Stamped and formed metal straps riveted to the arched opening and the mailbox door served as a door latching mechanism, while a rotating red semaphore flag mounted on a shaft attached to the side of the mailbox served to signal the approaching mailman if there was outgoing mail inside. Fitted with a crimped or braze-on rear steel panel and a false floor to keep its contents dry in inclement or humid weather, the Joroleman mailbox required only two rivets, three axle bolts, and four screws and nuts for completion. Durable and inexpensive, the popularity of the Joroleman mailbox was further enhanced by a decision not to patent the design, but to make its specifications known to all potential manufacturers for competitive sale. Adopted across the United States, it has remained the top-selling mailbox since its introduction, and was also widely used in Canada prior to that country’s decision to eliminate individual curbside delivery to rural residents.
The Joroleman mailbox was originally approved for manufacture in one size, the No. 1, which could accommodate letter mail, periodicals, newspapers, catalogs, and small parcels. After July 1, 1916, the Joroleman mailbox would be the only design approved by the Post Office for new curbside mailbox installations. In July 1929, the Post Office approved specifications for a larger Joroleman mailbox known as the No. 2. The No. 2 mailbox, soon followed by the still-larger No. 3, could accept larger parcels and packages sent via Parcel Post; these large boxes proved particularly popular with rural mail recipients, who could order manufactured goods by mail for delivery to the farm or ranch.
Since 1923, in order to promote uniformity, as well as the convenient and rapid delivery of the mail, the United States Post Office Department, (later the USPS) has continued to retain authority to approve the size and other characteristics of all mail receptacles, whether mailboxes or mail slots, for use in delivery of the mails. The USPS continues to issue specifications for curbside mailbox construction for use by manufacturers. Approved mailboxes from the latter are always stamped “U.S. Mail” and “Approved by the Postmaster General”. These standards have resulted in limitations on product diversity and design, though new materials, shapes, and features have appeared in recent years.
After World War II, postwar suburban home construction expanded dramatically in the United States, along with mail volume. By the 1960s, many new suburban homes were considerably larger and located on larger lots, yet most still used mail slots or attached wall-mounted mailboxes. This development caused a substantial increase in distances walked by the mail carrier, slowing mail delivery while increasing labor costs. In order to reduce delivery times and increase efficiency, the Post Office began requiring all new suburban developments to install curbside mailboxes in place of door-to-door delivery, allowing mail carriers to remain in the vehicle while delivering the mail. In 1978, the USPS (successor to the Post Office) declared that every new development must have either curbside delivery or centralized mail delivery.