Wednesday, September 21, 2011

rural mailboxes

rural mailboxes
stand in a row before rows
of withered field corn

     Farmers are saying they've lost a third of their crop to the long summer drought. The corn stalks began drying from the ground up way too early and soon withered completely. Now the carefully planted rows wait for the combine to harvest the desiccated crop.
     One thing farmers can be thankful for is Rural Free Delivery (RFD). It's been around for so long that it's hard to imagine what life was like before the US post office began delivering mail directly to farm families in 1896. Before the service was introduced, farmers had to pick up their mail at a distant post office or pay a private company for delivery. Free mail delivery in cities began in 1863 but the National Grange had to lobby for decades to get the service extended to rural areas.
     The 1890s saw the burgeoning of the mail order business, aided by the postal service, which classified their publications as aids in the dissemination of knowledge, entitling catalogs to the postage rate of one cent per pound. The advent of RFD made distribution of the catalog to rural areas economical, opening up a whole new world for isolated farm families. 
     The 1894 Sears Roebuck catalog claimed to be a "Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone" and the "Cheapest Supply House on Earth." It sold tools, saddles, buggies, bicycles, firearms, sporting goods, sewing machines, musical instruments, baby carriages, ear trumpets, and men's and children's clothing. It was said that farmers only read two books, and you could buy the Bible in the Sears Roebuck catalog. When parcel post delivery was added in 1931, mail order merchandise could be delivered directly to farm families. 
     My grandparents lived on a farm in Southern Illinois and I can still remember the excitement when the thick Sears Roebuck winter catalog was delivered to their mailbox. We kids drooled over the toys, marking our favorites for Christmas. Santa Claus ran the original Rural Free Delivery service, but only once a year.

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I'd like to contact you to ask permission to reuse this image. Can you please be in touch w me at laurantiarothstein at gmail dot com please?
    Hope to hear from you soon. Thank you!