My Burning Question: Was the job of mail carrier created for Civil War veterans?Are you a fan of American Pickers? My husband and I rarely miss an episode. I love antiques so I’m always interested in what the guys might find. My husband likes the car, motorcycle, “rusty gold” aspect of the show. So that’s where you’ll find us on a Monday night, catching Mike and Frank.
Now if you watch the show you may remember an episode where Frank bought an old set of post office boxes. They were really cool. I wouldn’t mind having a set myself although I have no idea what I’d do with them! Anyway as they’re apt to do on American Pickers, a little fact was put on the screen. Something to the effect that originally the job delivering mail to homes or the “mail carrier” position was created for Civil War veterans.
Wow! And you know what? My Civil War ancestor was a mail carrier! How cool is that! So I decided to research the origins of the mail carrier. Maybe I’d find some genealogical tid-bits on my g-g-grandfather, the mail carrier. I was excited to say the least!
My excitement didn’t last long. I couldn’t find a thing that tied the development of the mail carrier position to Civil War veterans. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Now I’m sure American Pickers would not lie to me, so what’s up with this? I was on the verge of writing Mike and Frank when I happened on the website for the United States Postal Service (USPS). I was checking the price of postage when I saw a link for USPS history. Yay! I read every topic they had on USPS history and not one word on the first mail carriers being Civil War veterans. Boo! BUT I could submit a question which I did. I submitted my burning question on whether the job of mail carrier was created for Civil War veterans. My email read:
I have a question on the origin of mail carriers. I saw on the American Pickers TV show, which airs on the History channel, that the first mail carriers were Civil War veterans. The mail carrier’s position was created as a “reward” for military service. My own Civil War ancestor happened to be a mail carrier so I’d like to verify this may be how he obtained the job. I have researched and not found any reference to Civil War veterans as mail carriers at all. So I’d appreciate any help you could give me on the subject.
Thank you for your time,
Then I waited for a reply. . . and waited . . . and waited. In fact I forgot all about the email. Then low and behold this week I received a reply from USPS and this is what it said:
Letter carrier positions were not created to reward veterans. Free home delivery of mail was established in cities beginning in 1863 as a convenience for customers. It also helped ease congestion in crowded lobbies in urban Post Offices, where customers previously had to call for their mail.
It’s true that many Civil War veterans did serve as letter carriers.
In an Act of March 3, 1865, Congress called for honorably discharged, disabled veterans to be given preference in appointments to government jobs, as long as they were capable and qualified.
Prior to 1883 (or 1893, in smaller cities), when the Civil Service Act kicked in, letter carrier appointments were solely at the discretion of the local postmaster and were often based on political connections. It was not uncommon for politically-connected citizens – and even a city’s postmaster – to have been Union officers, and they naturally favored job-seekers who had been comrades-in-arms.
Thank you for your patience in awaiting this information – I hope it’s still of interest.
Historian and Corporate Information Services Manager
United States Postal Service
So there’s my answer! Thank you Jenny Lynch! I appreciate it!
Perhaps my g-g-grandfather was politically connected (somehow I doubt that) or maybe the postmaster that hired him was a Civil War veteran as well. Who knows but guess who’s now going to research the postmaster of Hamler, Ohio in the 1870′s and 80′s. This girl!!
Happy Civil War Saturday and good luck in your continued research!