– By Greg Hoots –
In the late 1890s the U.S. Post Office began experimenting with a new service, Rural Free Delivery. At that time all mail to rural addresses was dropped at rural post offices, oftentimes at prominent rural residences or in country stores. In 1902 Rural Free Delivery, or RFD as it was commonly known, was made available to all addresses in the United States. Rural Free Delivery changed the lives of people living in remote, rural parts of the country.
In the decade following the creation of RFD service, 18,000 small post offices closed, nationwide. However, a new profession was born, the rural mail carrier. The first RFD carriers used narrow, enclosed buggies to carry the mail, replaced in the late 1920s with the automobile.
In this view, Alma, Kansas rural mail Route 1 carrier, Henry Diepenbrock stands beside his new mail buggy on his first day of work in 1904. When this photo was taken, the Alma Post Office was located at 309 Missouri Street. The building visible just behind the buggy was located at 305 Missouri Street. Diepenbrock retired as the Route 1 carrier on April 1, 1934.
The Wabaunsee County Historical Society’s mail buggy is currently on loan to the Chapman Center for Rural Studies and is on display at the Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan, Kansas as part of the “Going Home” exhibition. The exhibit runs through January 24th, 2017.