Notes from the Past

Street Car Mail Service

Between 1893 and the 1920s, street car mail systems were operated in Baltimore, Boston, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, New York, Omaha, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Rochester, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington.

Beginning in 1903 letter boxes were installed on street cars in a number of US cities.  the boxes were attached to the front or rear of the car, according to Konwiser (The American Stamp Collector's Dictionary).

Cabeen (Standard Handbook of Stamp Collecting) reports that by December, 1892, a service that included sorting, canceling, and distribution was in operation in St. Louis.  A special cancel went into use on February 3, 1893, reading "Street R.P.O. No. 1."

Then came similar services in Brooklyn in 1894; Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, and Cincinnati in 1895; and Washington, Baltimore, San Francisco, and Rochester in 1896.  These were followed by Pittsburgh in 1898, Seattle in 1905, Cleveland in 1908, and Omaha in 1910.

In 1899, states Cabeen, the street car mail services were transferred from the Railway Mail Service to the postmasters of the cities concerned.

The development of the mail truck, with its greater flexibility and mobility, soon caused the decline of the street car services, although Baltimore's existed until 1929. 

- Kenneth A. Wood
This is Philately - Volume Three Q-Z
Van Dahl Publications 1982
Posted October 28, 2000
Editor's Note:  I think that Wood overstates the case for the mail truck being the reason for the demise of street car mail service.  The first highway post office began in 1941.

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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