Saturday, October 16, 2010

Retro Mailbox Ingenuity

Wagon Wheel Mail Pop Mech Dec 1911
Popular Mechanics, Dec. 1911
We have an ancient wall mount mailbox - and it is getting tired. I know this because it falls out of the wall a little bit every time I leave the house, and I give it a little push in and think: you know, we need to get on this one of these days. That's because this one dates from the very earliest days of wall mount mailboxes - yet it is not a gorgeous retro vintage antique at all. We did finally replace the Mesolithic doormat, so I feel confident that we'll be buying a new mailbox very soon. I believe that at one point the mailbox used to be painted black; and it does have a nice little curlicued holder underneath the box part, for rolled-up catalogues and magazines.

The earliest home mailboxes date from the middle to late 19th century in the US. In 1863, the Post Office began delivering mail to people's homes, but since there were no mailboxes, the mailman had to knock and then wait and wait, then come back if no one was there. Gradually, people (prodded by the mailmen, no doubt) began to install mailboxes for their homes. But it wasn't until 1923 that the US Post Office made residential mailboxes (or mail slots) absolutely required - required, that is, if you wanted to get your mail.

Traveling Mailbox Pop Sci Oct 1918
Popular Science, Oct. 1918
The group of house mailboxes at above left are from 1911. They look like they're having a little coffee klatsch, don't they? A group of neighbors in Atlanta, Georgia put all their mailboxes on the wagon wheel, so that the mailman could spin the wheel around and thus deliver the mail quickly.

Now, wall mounted mailboxes were never an option out in the country -  not now and not in 1918. That's when a farmer in Texas set up this clever pulley system (on the right) to save him the long walk down to the mailbox and back. He even rigged up an electric bell in the wooden post so that the postman could ring when the mail had been delivered. Much better altogether to be that mailman than the one in the 1860s - who was probably still waiting to deliver some of his mail.


Anonymous said...

hahahaha too funny, but I'm with you, I hope to buy a new mailbox soon, one that actually covers my mail, instead of having soaked, bled through inked ones when it rains! xoxoxo

Bill said...

When my parents moved to their retirement home in the mountains, my dad went to his workbench and built a wooden mailbox with a lid. Definitely not in conformance to USPS standards, but their neighbor was the postmaster and took pity on my dad & kept silent. It was as large as a manger, and looked like one, too (with a lid). The mailman nearly had to climb into the thing if there was any outgoing mail to collect.
I told my parents that they were apt to get squalling hillbilly babies dropped in the box at night, and soon after my dad died my mom took pity on the mailman & replaced it with a regulation mail receptacle.
But that's the country for you. I recall getting excited as a kid when we'd pass by a mailbox labeled AIR MAIL on a 20-foot pole.