Delivery in Cities: A Visual Timeline

Collection Vehicles

Horse-drawn wagons originally were used to transport mail in large cities. Automobiles were first tested for mail collection in cities in 1899; they were able to cover the same distance as horse-drawn wagons in less than half the time. The first contract for mail collection by automobile was for service in Baltimore in 1906. In 1911, "motor wagons" were used in seven cities; by 1933 only two percent of postal vehicles in cities were horse-drawn.

The Post Office Department originally painted its motor vehicles red, white, and blue but changed the color to vermilion red beginning in February 1913, then switched to green, red, and black in October of that year. By 1915 the Department returned to a red, white, and blue color scheme for its vehicles.

Beginning in 1921, when most of the postal fleet consisted of trucks transferred from the War Department, postal vehicles were painted olive drab. The color scheme reverted to red, white, and blue in 1954, and then to white in 1979.

Delivery Vehicles

Although some enterprising letter carriers in Los Angeles used their own autos to deliver mail as early as 1912 — cutting their eight-hour workday down to four — the Post Office Department did not motorize city delivery routes until the 1950s, in response to unprecedented suburban growth. The Department had motorized more than half of its residential routes by 1969 with Jeeps, three-wheeled mailsters, and sit-stand trucks. Jeeps were in general use in the 1970s and 1980s. Long-life vehicles — longer lasting, lighter, and roomier than Jeeps — were introduced in 1987.

 

City Letter Carriers

City letter carriers were first required to wear a uniform in 1868; the uniform was blue-gray with black trim. Carriers’ uniforms have changed over time to provide greater comfort, especially in hot weather. For a detailed history of the letter carrier uniform, go to www.usps.com/postalhistory.