Over the last few years, and especially the last few weeks, delivery service for all kinds of things has become common place. Need a book, office supplies, toy, or a widget of almost any kind? Order it today and have it at your door within a few days, maybe even tomorrow. Got a hankering for a burger, pizza, or tacos? Use an app to order, pay, and have it show up on your doorstep. The United States Postal Service has been delivering since the founding of our country.
The Second Continental Congress called for “a line of posts . . . from Falmouth in New England to Savannah in Georgia” starting in 1775. Originally, delivery was from post office to post office. Beginning July 1, 1863, mail delivery to individual residences or businesses was authorized in cities where income from local postage could pay all expenses of the service. Within the year, this service was offered in 65 cities such as Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. Mail delivery to rural Americans began experimentally in 1896 starting in three Post Offices in West Virginia; within a year 44 routes were underway in 29 states. Lake County, Illinois implemented rural delivery in June 1904, saving area farmers and others on the outskirts a trip to town. However, it was not until 1926 that in-town residences and businesses in Libertyville were offered the same service.
The beginnings of mail delivery in Libertyville were remembered in a March 1946 Independent Register article celebrating the 20th anniversary of the service. The full article is transcribed below (with a few images added from the Cook Memorial Public Library and Libertyville-Mundelein Historical Society collections).
Independent Register, March 14, 1946, p.1
Saturday will mark the 20th anniversary of mail delivery to residences and business places in Libertyville. The first two mail carriers – Clark Dunn and Carl Wadman – continue “on the job”, the former delivering parcels post and the latter serving part of his original route.
Prior to March 16, 1926, the post office lobby was a daily meeting place of many local residents. Not only did they go there to receive their mail, but to exchange bits of gossip, talk about the weather, business, and social activities.
In recalling the start of home mail delivery Messrs. Dunn and Wadman said:
“It doesn’t seem long that we started from the postoffice that first morning of outside mail delivery. Older residents will recall that at least once each day they would go to the post office and get their mail from boxes or at the general delivery window. We remember that after we started delivery there were some who preferred to get their mail at the post office, this giving them an excuse to ‘come up town.'”
It wasn’t long, however, until they took advantage of the convenience home-delivery offered. Through the efforts of Congressman Carl R. Childbloom, the late Edwin E. Ellsworth, then postmaster, was instructed by the post office department to start two routes. The announcement was made about two months ahead of the scheduled start and applicants for the jobs of carriers were advised as to receiving civil service examinations. Among the applicants were two young men from Ivanhoe, Clark Dunn who had had some experience in rural route delivery out of Mundelein, and Carl Wadman who was a newcomer but who had carried mail in Chicago. At that time they were not known to each other. Because of the advantage through experience they had, Mr. Ellsworth appointed them.
Before delivery started there was considerable preliminary work, such as laying out route, interviewing patrons, instructing them concerning mailboxes and numbering, labeling cases, etc. The two men did this on their own time.
Dunn’s original route was from Lake Street south and on the west side of Milwaukee Avenue to Lincoln, both sides of Milwaukee Avenue south of the North Shore tracks. Carl’s was the east side of town from Milwaukee Avenue to Fourth, and from Park Avenue north to Johnson and Appley Avenues. They soon found out that these routes were too large for two carriers and new carriers were added.
There were no parcel deliveries in those days. Patrons were notified by carriers when there was a package too large for the carriers to handle at the post office. There were no mailboxes in the village and no relay boxes for carriers. They had to start with their whole loads at the post office. “Forty hours work week was not known, and frequently we worked 50 and 60 hours per week, with two trips on Saturdays. We worked holidays including Christmas, and only received overtime pay at Christmas.”
From two mail carriers on foot serving a population of about 2700 people to a team of nearly 30 carriers serving over 20,000 Libertyville residents, the mail carriers of Libertyville are still getting the job done, delivering in snow, rain, heat, and, as of this writing, the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Moving the Mail: https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/moving-mail.htm. Accessed March 27, 2020.
- City Delivery. https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/city-delivery.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2020.
- Illinois: Dates That First Rural Routes Were Established at Post Offices, through 1904. https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/first-rfd-illinois.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2020.
- Rural Free Delivery. https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/rural-free-delivery.pdf. Accessed March 27, 2020.
- “Mail delivery started 20 years ago.” Independent Register, March 14, 1946, p.1.
- “To start routes June 15”. Lake County Independent, May 20, 1904, p. 4.
- Image 1 of Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Libertyville, Lake County, Illinois. 1924. Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/resource/g4104lm.g019731924/?sp=1&r=0.466,0.013,0.768,0.397,0. Accessed March 30, 2020.