Historical Markers
Rural Free Delivery Historical Marker
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Rural Free Delivery

Laurel Highlands/Southern Alleghenies


Marker Location:
135 West Pennsylvania Ave., New Stanton

Dedication Date:
June 26, 2001

Behind the Marker

When the First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in May 1775, the delegates sought to establish a postal delivery system that could carry vital news throughout the thirteen colonies. After his appointment as the first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin designed and put in place the country's first postal system, a system that would grow with the nation.
Horse and mail wagon are parked by rural mailbox as the mailman poses with satchel on shoulder and letter in hand
Mail carrier, rural Pennsylvania, circa 1900.

The mails brought letters from family and news from the outside world. But throughout the nineteenth century, the mails served the nation's cities and towns better than rural Americans. To receive their mail, farmers had to go into town to get it. It wasn't easy for farmers to get to town, for there was always plenty of work to do and roads were often poor. A trip to town could take a half-day or more, so farmers often waited a few weeks or even longer to pick up their mail.

For decades, farmers' groups pushed for mail delivery to their homes. They found their champion in Philadelphia businessman, philanthropist, and self-styled "country boy" markerJohn Wanamaker.

Founder of one of America's first and most successful department stores, John Wanamaker had grown up on a small farm in South Philadelphia. Appointed Postmaster General of the United States in 1889, Wanamaker believed that the government had a duty to deliver mail and packages to everyone, regardless of how far away they lived from the nearest post office, and he pushed Congress to create rural free delivery (better known as RFD) and parcel post.

Cartoon showing Benjamin Harrison planting a chestnut tree and Postmaster General John Wanamaker watching him. Wanamaker asks: "Your excellency, how do you like Pennsylvania?" Benjamin Harrison replies: "A little cooler weather would suit tree planting better"
"Working With the President." Political cartoon of President Benjamin Harrison...
At Wanamaker's urging, on October 1, 1890, Congress passed a joint resolution authorizing him to test free delivery in areas outside of cities and towns. The $10,000 that Congress appropriated for the experiment, however, was insufficient to launch any serious test of what the Postmaster General called "country delivery." The problem was that many in Congress and the nation were afraid of rural free delivery. Some critics believed that it would bankrupt the government; others charged that the Postmaster General had promoted the new mail system to line his own pockets by crushing country stores and expanding his own store's mail-order business at the government's expense.

Wanamaker found powerful allies in America's farm organizations. After endorsing Wanamaker's plan, the markerNational Grange, the National Farmers' Congress, and State Farmers' Alliances mounted a letter-writing campaign among their members to Congressmen and Senators that was critical to the passage of the 1893 law that funded the first trials of rural free delivery.

Rural Free Delivery Stamp
Rural Free Delivery Stamp, 1996.
Wanamaker stepped down as Postmaster General in 1893. The first trial rural routes were established in Pennsylvania in November 1896. Two of these were in Lancaster County and two in Westmoreland County. Within a year, the number of pieces of mail carried was doubled. In the ensuing years, as the federal government expanded rural free delivery, the National Grange and other farmers' organizations urged Congress to pass another of Wanamaker ideas - parcel post. In 1913 the U. S. Post Office began a parcel post service that permitted rural customers to get packages delivered directly to them.

RFD had brought mail to farmhouses across the nation. The introduction of parcel post gave farmers and their families access to the profusion of mass-produced, manufactured goods they found in mail order catalogs. In the decade that followed, rural free delivery and parcel post connected rural Americans to the nation's booming industrial economy, and sped their transformation into modern consumers. The new mail systems also stimulated rural residents' demand for improved roads. In 1930, markerGifford Pinchot ran for governor of Pennsylvania on a campaign to improve roads and "get the farmer out of the mud." After he was elected he began an effort to improve rural roads in the state - these were called marker"Pinchot roads." 
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