term "parcel post" refers to the sending of packages through
the mail service. In 1878, the Congress of the Universal Postal Union
established an international parcel post system. Four years later,
the British parliament approved a bill implementing domestic, colonial
and foreign parcel post services. Other countries quickly followed
suit. The US Post Office Department agreed to deliver parcels sent
into the country but refused to institute a domestic service.
the late 1800's, the National Grange and similar organizations concerned
with farmers' welfare lobbied Congress for the free delivery of
mail to rural households. Many rural residents had to travel for
days to retrieve their mail from distant post offices or pay private
express companies for delivery. Finally, in October 1896, Congress
approved the establishment of rural free delivery. It was a heady
taste of life for rural Americans and soon increased the demand
for delivery of packages containing foodstuffs, dry goods, drugs,
tobacco and other commodities not easily available to farmers.
Private express companies and rural retail merchants fought tenaciously
against parcel post but rural residents comprised 54 percent of
the country's population and they were equally vociferous. While
the question was still being debated in Congress, one of the major
express companies declared a large stockholder dividend. Public
indignation at the exorbitant profits spurred Congress to resolve
the issue quickly.
Parcel post service began on January 1, 1913 and was an instant
success. During the first five days of service, 1,594 post offices
reported handling over 4 million parcel post packages. The effect
on the national economy was electric. Marketing through parcel post
gave rise to great mail-order businesses. In addition, parcel post
created an immediate demand for special packaging suitable for mailing
the wide array of commodities considered deliverable under the system.
Montgomery Ward, the first mail-order house, started with a one-page
catalog in 1872. With the advent of parcel post, the mail-order
catalog became the one of the most important books in the farmhouse,
second only to the Bible. In fact, the catalog was often called
"The Homesteaders Bible" or the "Wish Book".
Roebuck and Company followed Montgomery Ward in 1893. In 1897, one
year after the start of rural free delivery, Sears boasted it was
selling four suits and a watch every minute, a revolver every two
minutes and a buggy every ten minutes. And within five years, Sears
had tripled its revenues.
A large fleet of trucks started delivering parcel post shipments
in 1918. Farmers were then able to ship eggs and other produce directly
to the customer. Eggs quickly became a mainstay of parcel post.
In fact, six eggs were the first objects sent by parcel post from
St. Louis, Missouri to Edwardsville, Illinois. Mailed at noon, the
eggs returned to St. Louis seven hours later, baked in a cake. Small
animals that did not require food or water while in transit were
accepted as parcel post.
In 1948, an air parcel post service was established. Under treaty
arrangements, the United States exchanges parcel post with most
countries of the world. Private freight companies, such as Federal
Express and United Parcel Service, compete with the U.S. Postal
Service for domestic and international delivery.
J.O.A. Parcel post labels of Great Britain. Batley, England:
Harry Hayes, 1999.
James H. Reaching rural America: the evolution of rural free
delivery. Washington, DC: National Postal Museum, Smithsonian
Danish parcel post "Postfaerage" stamps. Plovst,
Denmark: Danmarks Postfaege Maerker, 1962.
Paul N. Parcel post stamps of China. Beijing: China Philatelic
Rachel. Mailbox, USA: stories of mailbox owners and makers:
a celebration of mailbox art in America. Salt Lake City: Gibbs
Wayne E. RFD, the farmers' mail. Columbus, OH: Ohio Historical
Henry M. U.S. parcel post: a postal history. [s.l.] W.M.
Gobie; Miami: distributed by Postal Publications, 1979.
Helmuth S. Railway stamps of South Africa: the railway parcels,
newspaper and official stamps of the South African railways and
the various administrations which preceded it. Johannesburg:
Philatelic Federation of Southern Africa, 1985.
David L. Parcel post stamps of the Ivory Coast. [s.l.]
Herendeen Enterprises, 2001.
Max G. United States postage stamps, 1902-1935: regular issues,
parcel post, airmails. Lawrence, MA: Quarterman Publications,
Lester F. 100 years of rural free delivery. Alexandria,
VA: National Rural Letter Carriers' Association, 1996.
Printing history of special delivery, parcel post, parcel
post due, special handling, registration, official mail and postal
savings flat plates. Madison, WI: Bureau Issues Association,
Harold E. Encyclopedia of R.F.D. cancels. Lake Oswego,
OR: La Posta Publications, 1995.
South Carolina, 1896-1996: celebrating 100 years rural free
delivery. South Carolina: South Carolina Rural Letter Carriers'
William A. R.F.D. country!: mailboxes and post offices of rural
America. West Chester, PA: Schiffer Publication Co., 1988.