City Delivery Pioneer

Joseph William Briggs, a Cleveland, Ohio, postal clerk, often is credited with conceiving the idea of free city delivery while contemplating long lines of customers trying to keep warm as they inched toward his window in the winter of 1862. Many were women hoping for news of loved ones in the Civil War. Briggs enlisted local businesses to serve as staging areas for sorting customers’ mail, and he began delivering mail to his patrons free of cost.

In 1864, Briggs wrote Postmaster General Montgomery Blair, suggesting improvements to the free letter carrier system, launched in 1863. Blair liked Briggs’ ideas, brought him to Washington, and appointed him special agent in charge of superintending the operation of the letter carrier system, a role he performed until his death on February 23, 1872.

A 1921 postal committee charged with determining who should be credited with the establishment of free city delivery, after examining the available evidence, reported to Postmaster General Will Hays that “no one individual can be considered the author or originator of this service …” The committee said, “Mr. Briggs cannot be properly credited as the author of the City Free Delivery Service, but the evidence seems sufficient to warrant the statement that he was the first letter carrier in the city of Cleveland, Ohio.”24

A plaque in the Cleveland Post Office commemorates Briggs’ service as that city’s first free letter carrier and his contributions to establishing the service nationwide.