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Rural Free Delivery

Stylized Rural Free Delivery Mural

Prior to the 1890s, people in rural areas had to either travel miles to collect their mail at designated post offices or pay private carriers for delivery. Local postal offices were often located in a community’s general store, so travelling to pick up mail wasn’t a terrible hardship…if the weather wasn’t bad, you could take a day away from the farm, were well enough to travel, and not expecting an urgent delivery!

The idea that rural residents should enjoy free daily mail delivery just as people in cities did was first discussed since the 1880s. After all, most Americans lived in rural areas at the time, the argument went, why should they enjoy lesser service than the minority? Many groups favored the introduction of rural delivery, including owners of large, city-based stores who wanted mail-order purchasing to catch on!


Opponents included owners of the large express delivery companies, local merchants who ran post office counters in their shops, and politicians who feared that rural free delivery would bankrupt the federal government.

Finally, in 1896—thirty-three years after mail service in urban areas began—the Post Office introduced an experimental program of Rural Free Delivery in Jefferson County, West Virginia. Later that year, RFD became a Congressionally mandated federal service. Implementing the service was a massive undertaking, but routes spread quickly. Parcel Post was introduced in 1913, adding delivery of newspapers and magazines and leading to a nationwide boom in catalog sales. In Butler County, by 1916 there were over 60 rural postal routes operating out of several dozen offices.

Mural Details




Sonny Franks & Julie Bertrand

Butler Co. Historical Society

204 N Main St, Butler, PA

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