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Monday Morning Brief | Mail transport history: it all began on foot

July 31, 2017 08:00 AM

Scott catalog senior editor Tim Hodge has a passion for the ways and means of mail transport and delivery. In this week’s brief, he highlights the movement of mail by foot, the most primitive means of transport. Stay tuned for Hodge’s future reports on the history of moving the mail.

Full Video Transcript:

Good morning, stamp collectors! Welcome to the Monday Morning Brief for July 31.

My name is Tim Hodge. I am the new senior editor for the Scott catalogs.

This week, I begin a little series on the history and methods of mail transport and delivery — starting with the most primitive methods of foot travel and horseback, through the revolutions of trains and steamboats, to the more recent experimental methods of rocket and missile airmail.

Today, let’s begin with the most primitive transportation method: by foot.

Dating back to antiquity, the original method of mail transport was foot travel. Private messengers on foot or horseback brought news and information to those who could afford them before public mail systems had been established.

Mercury, the Greek messenger god, is pictured with wings on his feet; a fleet runner quickly carrying news.

The Incans used the Incan trail to carry messages long distances through high elevations by foot.

By the time Thomas Witherings established the first public mail system in 1635, when the bulk of the mail was carried on horseback and by ship. However, rural mail delivery often involved foot travel.

In 1814, a mail system was established in Namibia between the missionary stations and the outside world. This made use of natives who carried the mail on the end of sticks, with their provisions on another end.

These brave Namibians, presumably attacked and eaten by lions, often went missing on their two-week journey by foot between Windhoek and Walvis Bay.

Beginning in 1885, mail between Palm City (now Palm Beach), Florida, and Lemon City (now Miami), Florida, was carried 40 of the 68 miles by barefoot mailmen along the beach.

Prior to the barefoot mail route, mail was carried via steamboat and train, taking a total of two months between the two cities. The barefoot mail route shortened this to one week.

Today, mail is still delivered from door to door by mailmen on foot.

Join me next time to learn about mail delivery by skis and snowshoes. Thank you.