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100-Year-Old Photos of People Delivering Mail

While the job of a mail carrier might be largely the same as it was 100 years ago, the postal system itself has drastically changed over the past century. Here are some vintage photos, courtesy of The Library of Congress, that show how your mail used to travel in the early 1900s.

Inside the Post Office

Just like today (unless you use online postage or the Automated Postal Center), a package’s journey started at the post office window. While the technology used by the cashier has changed since 1925, it still involves scales, stamps and money.

Once packages and letters were paid for, they were pushed to the back of the post office, where they would be sorted and sent off according to their destinations. Similarly, incoming mail would be sorted for the local carriers to take along their routes. This particular image from 1914 shows the behind-the-scenes action at the Pennsylvania Terminal Post Office in New York.

Just as today, when mailing addresses were found to be illegible, the packages and letters were sent to the dead letter department. While more machines are involved nowadays, back in 1917, the department had to rely on the ability of employees to decipher the addresses.

Mail Trains

Mail wasn’t delivered across the country via small cars or on the backs of horses. At least, not after the railroad connected the coasts to one another. The mail trains were a critical part of the postal system in the early 1900s, although railroads are almost never used in our modern mail system.

In many ways, the inside of a mail train operated much like the back-end of a post office. Sacks of mail would be loaded onto the train and then dumped out for sorting, as seen in this 1938 photograph by Arthur Rothstein.

The mail would be sorted based on destination, then re-bagged and unloaded at its appropriate destination. Here’s a group of gentlemen sorting out the mail in a rail car sometime around 1910.

Modes of Transportation

These days, most mail vehicles are either large trucks carrying loads between post offices or the little trucks used by mail carriers, but in the first half of the last century, there was a lot more variety in the methods of transportation used to ship mail. Automobiles started being used to deliver mail in the early 1900s, but the type of vehicles used varied from location to location. Here’s a line of early U.S. mail trucks taken in an unknown city at an unspecified date.

Some places didn’t switch to using mail vehicles until much later. In fact, it was still common for mail carriers to use horses all the way through the forties — especially in poorer and more rural areas. Here’s a mailman all saddled up for delivery in Puerto Rico taken some time before 1930.

Of course, in snowy areas, other modes of transportation were common. For example, here is a picture of a British Columbia mail team taken some time before 1930.

Once mail trucks started to become more common, though, certain modifications had to be made to accommodate vehicles for delivery in snowy weather. Here is a mail truck adapted to use extra wheels and special treads that was used in snowy Nevada County, California, in 1940, as photographed by Russell Lee.

Air Mail

Air delivery eventually rendered railroad services unnecessary. The Post Office jumped on the airplane bandwagon early, offering air mail service as early as 1918. In fact, here are a bunch of the officials, big wigs and a handful of the pilots that showed up at the first official flight of the air mail service.

And here are some of the first pilots to fly routes on the air mail service back in 1918.

Mail Carriers

Just as today, the most public face of the USPS has always been the mail carriers who visit our homes nearly every day. Before mailboxes were mandatory, they were required to stop at every home and knock on the door, developing close ties with those living on their routes. Here’s one mailman greeting one of his customers in Nebraska, 1938.

As you may have guessed, most mail carriers of the past were men, but during the two World Wars, women filled in at the Post Office just as they did in other businesses. Here is Parmlee Campbell delivering mail to some appreciative customers back in 1917.

Thought the Christmas mail rush was a new phenomenon? Think again. Here are three postal workers strapped with Christmas packages, photographed sometime between 1910 and 1915.

If you like these pictures, head over to The Library of Congress and do a search for “mail.” There are hundreds of pictures featuring mailmen, mail trains and more.

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USPS's 'Informed Delivery' Service Will Email You Pictures of the Mail You're Getting Today
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In the world dominated by email, you may not always be excited to check your physical mailbox. But USPS’s Informed Delivery could change that. The service can tell you whether you want or need to check your mail that day, according to the Daily Dot, because it emails you images of every single piece of mail you’re scheduled to receive.

Once you opt into the service—which recently became available nationwide—USPS will send you an email each day before 9 a.m. with scanned images of every piece of mail you are due to receive. If you don’t receive the letter that you’re scheduled to get that day, you can immediately notify USPS by checking a box on the webpage. The service doesn’t show you images of anything bigger than a large envelope, so you can’t see your packages. However, it will give you status updates for them and allow you to leave delivery instructions.

If there’s a blizzard and you really don’t want to go outside for anything less than a paycheck or your long-awaited tax refund, you’ll know whether or not the slog to the mailbox is worth it. Informed Delivery is also a good way to make sure you’re actually getting the mail you’re scheduled to receive, potentially foiling mail thieves looking to steal your identity—or just mail carriers who lose your letters. The service lets you track mail for the whole week, showing you scans of the letters you received each day for the past seven days.

As of now, it seems like USPS still has a few kinks to work out. In some cases, the service not only shows the user mail for direct members of their household, but also possibly a neighbor’s mail, too, if the user is in an apartment building—meaning the service might not be as private as it should be. (This happened to me, although not to other Mental Floss staffers who use the service.)

According to an automated email from the USPS explaining this mishap, it could be because the "unit/complex is not coded down to a unique delivery point barcode, which is a requirement for this service.”

So for some apartment buildings, this may be an accidental spying tool. The images are only of the outside of the envelope where the address window is, so at least it’s not revealing much. It’s clear that the service isn't perfect yet, but it’s still pretty useful in the meantime.

[h/t Daily Dot]

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There's an Easy Way to Rid Your Mailbox of Catalogs and Other Junk
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You've signed up for paperless billing. You've opted in on e-statements for your credit cards. But your mailbox is still filled to the brim with envelopes full of useless credit card offers, catalogs, coupons, and charity solicitations. Thankfully, there is a way to take back your mailbox from unwanted junk mail—if you know where to go. According to The New York Times, there is a relatively painless way to reduce the amount of unwanted paper piling up in your mailbox.

DMAChoice.org is a website run by the DMA, or the Data & Marketing Association, a New York-based lobbying organization for data-based marketing and advertising that represents around 3600 companies that send direct mail to consumers, i.e., the sources of your junk mail. In order to try to keep consumers happy (and thus, more amenable to marketing), the website lets consumers opt out of certain categories of unsolicited mailings.

For a $2 registration fee, you can remove your name from mailing lists for catalogs, magazine offers, and other direct mail advertising. Your can opt out of offers from specific companies, like say, the magazine Birds and Blooms or the AARP, or you can opt out of all companies in a category. If you don't want to get any mail from DMA-affiliated businesses, you have to separately opt out of all three categories: magazine offers, all catalogs, and all "other" mail offers.

Compared to ripping up AARP offers every single day, the effort is worth it. For less than the price of a few stamps and a few minutes of your time, you can vastly cut down on your junk mail. While the opt-out only applies for companies that find their direct-mail potential customers through DMA lists, you'll still be eliminating a huge swath of your unwanted mail.

As for those annoying "prequalified" credit card offers, you'll have to go to a different website, but this one, at least, is free. OptOutPrescreen.com, run by the four major credit reporting agencies—Equifax, Innovis, Experian, and TransUnion—lets you opt out of all of credit card offers originating from the customer lists provided by those four reporting agencies. You can either file a request to opt out on the website to free yourself of credit card mailings for five years, or mail in an opt-out form to stop receiving them permanently. The site does ask you for your Social Security number, but it's legit, we promise. It has the FTC's stamp of approval.

[h/t The New York Times]

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