Rural Free Delivery | Prairie Public Broadcasting

Rural Free Delivery

Aug 6, 2019

While today we take rural mail delivery for granted, that was not the case in 1909. On this date that year, there was exciting news for Beach, North Dakota. The Golden Valley Chronicle announced that the Postal Service had approved three rural routes for the area, covering 28 miles.

Free mail delivery was instituted for city dwellers in 1863. Twenty-seven years later, in 1890, there was still no rural delivery even though that covered 65% of the population. One farmer wanted to know why city dwellers got fancy home delivery while taxpayers in the country did not.

John Wannamaker was the Postmaster General from 1889 to 1893. He thought it made sense to deliver mail directly to people living in the country. He saw economic benefit as businesses would have a means to expand markets. Farmers would be able to stay abreast of important economic news if newspapers could be delivered. Wannamaker also noted that people who lived in rural areas paid the same amount for postage, yet received inferior service. He proposed a plan for rural free delivery, which would become abbreviated as RFD.

In 1893 Congress authorized $10,000 for the program, but the new Postmaster General did not implement it. He said it would cost at least $20,000. The appropriation was increased to $40,000 in 1896. That got the ball rolling, and within a year there were forty-four routes in twenty-nine states. But many rural areas were still left out, including most of North Dakota. Organizations like the National Grange and the National Farmers’ Congress pressed for an expansion of the program. And so it was that Beach, after 14 years, finally got rural delivery.

And rural mail carriers did more than deliver the mail. They served as a traveling post office. They sold stamps, money orders, and registered letters. They delivered mail on horseback or by buggy. In 1929 the Post Office determined that improved roads allowed for a switch to motor vehicles, but in some areas, like much of North Dakota, roads were not greatly improved. Carriers still preferred the reliable horse.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher


Golden Valley Chronicle. “Three Rural Mail Routes for Beach.” Beach ND. 6 August 1909. Page 1.

United States Postal Service. “Rural Free Delivery.”  Accessed 9 July 2019.