Mail by Pail

Mail by Pail

by Sandra Merville Hart

Delivering the mail to isolated areas has been a challenge over the years for the Post Office. In 1845, a new service called Star Routes began. Private letter carriers were hired to deliver the mail these areas, allowing the person to decide the best way to do to the job. Some surprising ways have been used.


Stagecoaches delivered the mail before the Star Routes began. Stage companies wanted mail contracts because delivering mail made the most money. They continued to be used until the early 1900s. Mail bags were stored under the driver’s seat. Horseback riders replaced some of the stagecoaches.

Water Routes

A mail boat is used in Magnolia Springs, Alabama to deliver mail. Twenty-five miles by boat would be eighty-five miles by land, so it the water route cuts the distance more than half.

Mule trains

In Arizona, the Havasupai Indians have received their mail in an unusual way for decades. Pack mules loaded with packages and mail goes down an eight-mile trail into the Grand Canyon. 


Until 1963, dogsleds delivered the mail to small Alaskan towns. Now, mail planes have taken over service to the isolated villages.

Mail by Pail

The most unusual way that mail is delivered might be the “Mail by Pail” method. On the Detroit River, rowboats make a mid-river transfer of mail to Great Lakes freighters. A bucket is dropped by rope to the rowboat below with outgoing mail. The letter carrier takes this mail and replaces it with new letters to those aboard ship.



“History of the United States Postal Systems,” Inventors, 2012 January 4

“Networking a Nation: The Star Route Service – The Stagecoach,” National Postal Museum, 2014 March 25

“Networking a Nation: The Star Route Service – What is a Star Route?” National Postal Museum, 2014 March 25

“Reaching Rural America,” National Postal Museum, 2014 March 25

“Stagecoaches and Mud Wagons,” National Postal Museum, 2014 March 25




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