Today we all recognize the USPS van, we sometimes even wait and watch for it when we are waiting on a special delivery. The USPS was created back in 1775, which means the iconic USPS van we are used to seeing today wasn’t always the way mail was delivered.  In fact, USPS has used a variety of mail delivery options throughout the decades, some of which we’ve highlighted below.


Horseback Riders or Post Riders as they were known are some of the first postal carriers in the United States. They traveled along a system of post roads that connected small post offices.  People would have to wait in long lines to collect their mail. Shocking enough by 1789, there were about 75 Post Offices and 2,400 miles of post roads, serving a population of almost 4 million. 


Post riders were slowly replaced by stagecoaches in the late 1700s.  With the Gold rush leading to westward migration, stagecoaches carried mail on new postal routes stretching from coast to coast.  


Mail delivery goes aquatic! By 1813, Congress had authorized the usage of steamboats to transport mail. In the late 1820s, steamboats were ferrying mail up and down the East Coast and along the Mississippi River. It would take until 1848 for steamboats to carry mail to California but they did so by utilizing the Isthmus of Panama, this journey took about three weeks. 

Pony Express: 

The pony express was the first iteration of “First Class Mail”. It was a private service that in 1860 began running mail between Missouri and California.  These riders had specific horses that average 75 to 100 miles a day and they changed horses at relay stations set 10-15 mile intervals along the 2,000 mile route. To deliver mail via the Pony Express took about 10 days, which was half the time of the regular overland mail. However, the Pony express was shut down in 1861 after the completion of the transcontinental telegraph line. 


After the Civil War and the completion of the nation’s first transcontinental railroad, the efficiency of the railroad caught the eye of USPS.  From the 1860s to the 1970s, clerks would sort and distribute mail on trains crossing the country. At its peak, in the mid-20th century, the Railway Mail handled about 93% of all non-local mail in the United States. 


In 1899, an electric automobile collected mail from 40 mailboxes in about 90 minutes, which was half the time a horse drawn wagon took.  However, the use of automobiles would not increase until 1913 when postal carriers began delivering both packages and letters. By 1933, only 2 percent of urban postal vehicles were horse drawn carriages. As suburbs began to develop the need for vehicles to deliver mail became more necessary. 


The first US Mail Flight took place in 1911 and in 1918 the Airmail service launched, using pilots and planes borrowed from the Army.  By 1924, transcontinental airmail took one day, 10 hours and 20 minutes, compared to the six to seven hours it might take today. 

Pneumatic Tube: 

In the early 20th century, underground systems of pneumatic tubes linked postal facilities within each of six U.S. cities. Canisters were packed with up to 500 letters and placed into tubes and propelled by pressurized air between postal facilities at speeds of up to 30 mph.  With automobiles being more efficient, this endeavor was suspended.  Pneumatic Tubes had a short come back in the 1920s in NYC and Boston but were retired for good by the early 1950s.