Special Delivery Service Begins

U.S. #E1 – The trademark of the Special Delivery stamps was the running post office messenger, who was often referred to as the “running speedy boy.” He is one of the few postal figures who was modeled after a living person. During one session, the engraver was so engrossed in his work he didn’t realize the length of time the boy was forced to stand on one foot. Eventually, the boy became completely exhausted and collapsed to the floor.

Special Delivery Service Begins

On October 1, 1885, the Special Delivery service made its debut, and the U.S. Postal Department issued a 10¢ stamp to inaugurate its new service. Used in addition to the regular postage required, this stamp paid for an extra service – the immediate delivery of a letter within one mile of any other Special Delivery post office.

Assistant Postmaster General Frank Hatton first proposed the Special Delivery Service in 1883. At the time, the Postal Service delivered twice a day in major cities. Private companies were used for urgent business mail that couldn’t wait for those scheduled deliveries. Hatton believed the companies were cutting into the Postal Service’s profits. On March 3, 1885, Congress approved the Special Delivery Service Act.

The Special Delivery stamps are larger than postage stamps, so busy postal clerks could easily recognize them. Originally, Special Delivery offices were located only in cities with populations over 4,000. However, the venture was such a success, the service was extended to all areas in October 1886.

The last Special Delivery stamp was issued in 1971. By that time, the quality of service and the need for Special Delivery were in decline. Today, Priority Mail and Express Mail have taken the place of Special Delivery services.

Today we have a bonus piece of history – it’s also the anniversary of the start of Rural Free Delivery! 

U.S. #3090 – The carriers who delivered mail to homes and businesses became traveling post offices where patrons could buy stamps, register their mail, and even purchase money orders. Trained horses could go between stops without much attention from the driver, leaving his hands free to sort and postmark mail.

During the 1800s, Americans in rural areas lived in great isolation. There were no telephones, radios, or televisions. Farmers and other country-dwelling Americans communicated by mail. However, getting to a post office to send and receive mail was difficult. Most people in rural areas only traveled to the post office once every few weeks.

This situation began to change on October 1, 1896, with the introduction of Rural Free Delivery. Postmaster General William L. Wilson created the first Rural Free Delivery services in the West Virginia towns of Charles Town, Halltown, and Uvilla. Rural Free Delivery revolutionized country living, allowing farmers to receive daily newspapers. Also, the establishment of Parcel Post lead to mail-order firms. Rural Free Delivery quickly spread across the country.

Today, rural mail carriers deliver the mail on over 54,400 routes every day – that’s 2.7 million miles of routes, with 24.7 million delivery points.

Click the images to discover more history and add them to your collection.

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19 responses to "Special Delivery Service Begins"

19 thoughts on “Special Delivery Service Begins”

  1. My grandfather was a P.S. Rural Carrier in rural southern Kentucky for a career including the Depression and World War II. He delivered baby chickens among mail. First delivered on horseback, crossing creeks without bridges, even in Spring flooding rains. It was true, the mail must go through. Grateful patrons along the route often left him love gifts of baked goods and jams. Can you imagine? Thanks Poppy!

  2. Living in the mountains of rural PA, I can definitely identify with the privilege of RFD. I still have to drive to the end of my 1/2 mile lane to get it, but it’s a lot better than driving 6 miles one way to town. I do have to go to the P.O. for packages because they are not allowed to drive more than 1 mile round trip off their route. I’m actually 6 tenths of a mile from the Township road. Also, in the 42 years I’ve lived here, no matter what the weather conditions (sometimes up to 30″ of snow) the mail has always come through; although sometimes I cannot get out the lane to retrieve it.
    I also greatly appreciate these articles and look forward to them everyday…just like the mail !

    • Good to hear your story! Before I came into town to a senior community 12 years ago, I lived apart like that in the southern Finger Lakes of New York. My driveway was only 1/7 mile long, but it gave a sense of isolation (and was sometimes blocked by snow!). Anyway, the arrival of mail was always eagerly anticipated; it still is. I also had a gig as substitute rural carrier when I was 70, needing a little more income. The hilly route was 70 miles with over 400 customers – a real challenge for the older worker to get it done before dark in the late fall and winter. But I couldn’t sort and case the mail as fast as the much younger regular carrier, so I gave it up. The operative ethic was always: “The mail must go through”, just as when I delivered newspapers near Syracuse, NY year around when I was a teenager in the ‘thirties’.

      • I like learning about American history and these personal stories are really
        making it come “alive” for me, as well. Thanks for sharing! I look forward
        to reading this site daily about stamps in my collection. It’s great!

  3. During World War II, I lived on a farm in north central Nebraska with a mail box about 1/4 mile from our house. Watching for the mail carrier and picking up the mail was a highlight of a day – and I also remember getting baby chickens in the mail! One day the mail carrier got stuck in the mud and asked me to get my father to pull him out. I remember being very upset that my father wouldn’t drop what he was doing and made the mail carrier wait about 1/2 hour before using his team of horses to pull the man out.

  4. Love reading the Postal History and the replies of the readers….
    I am saving all the Postal History Days and will continue doing so….Thanks Mystic and thanks fellow stamp collectors….You ” Make my day”….you know who said that….

  5. On this date October 1, 1890, 125 years ago, Yosemite National Park was created by act of Congress. It was the third national park after Yellowstone and Sequoia, but in some ways it was the first. In 1964, Abraham Lincoln signed an act that transferred Yosemite to the state of California with the understanding that it would become a state park. The idea was that the states would protect these special areas. But twelve years later in 1876, when Congress acted to protect Yellowstone, Wyoming was not yet a state, so Yellowstone was designated as a national park. So the idea that the national government would set aside special scenic and historic areas began with the Yosemite Land Grant.

  6. What wonderful comments. Makes me appreciate the Postal Service all the more. I love getting the mail in everyday. I can always depend on it being delivered. No other delivery service offers the personal touch that “our” postal workers give to us. Bless all of them.
    The daily stamp information is so informative. It gives us a real look at a part of our history, and the importance of stamps, and the postal system. Thank you.

  7. Stamps did not display in the appropriate blocks on this post. All other “day in History” posts have displayed properly before and after this date in the appropriate space. Was something changed?

  8. I am relatively new to the postal service, I work in a one drawer office and it has sparked my interest in stamp collecting. Today is the first I have started researching the hobby so enjoyed the article.

  9. Love the stories. I look for the mail everyday also plus now I get to look for my Mystic email. I’m twice blessed


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