Mail in the Early Days


Getting a letter out on the frontier was a rare and very precious thing. Those messages from home were treasured and read over and over until sometimes the paper was so thin and the words illegible. But today they’ve become practically non-existent with email and the Internet.

We’re all familiar with postage stamps and gripe when the price goes up. There’s also been a lot of talk lately about the desperate situation the U.S. Postal Service is in today and fears that they may go bankrupt. I sincerely hope not since my son works for the post office here.


The U.S. Post Office came into being in 1775 when Ben Franklin was appointed postmaster general. In those days it was the recipient, not the sender, who paid the cost to mail a letter. This was a less than ideal situation since often the recipient couldn’t be located or else they refused to accept the letter and it had to be returned.


The first adhesive postage stamp ever produced in the U.S. was introduced in 1842 when a private enterprise carrier service called “City Despatch Post” began to operate in New York City. However, a few months after it came into being it was sold to the United States government.

Congress Establishes Uniform Postal Rates

On March 3, 1845, an Act of Congress established uniform postal rates throughout the nation with a uniform rate of five cents for distances under 300 miles. But still each city issued their own stamps.

The first national stamps came into existence in 1847 when Congress passed another act and declared all the city issued stamps invalid. An engraver was hired and production took off. (Above are the first national stamps issued.)

A 5-cent stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 ounce and traveling less than 300 miles.

A 10-cent stamp was required for 2 ounces or less or to places over 300 miles.


By 1851 the Postal Service had increased its revenue so much that Congress dropped the 1 ounce, 300 mile rate to 3 cents and it stayed that way for over 30 years. Hard to believe.


When the Civil War broke out it threw the entire postal service in disarray. The Confederate States wouldn’t accept the Northern stamps and vice-versa. The public didn’t know where to turn. And they had no idea when they mailed a letter if it would reach its destination or not.

 The Pony Express

In 1860, the U.S. Post Office used the Pony Express to get mail to and from the West Coast. The Pony Express Trail was an exhausting 1,840 miles long. But this was a short-lived venture, lasting only 18 months.


FYI: In 1873 the Post Office began producing a pre-stamped post card.
Ten years later, the first-class letter rate changed from 3 cents to 2 cents. That prompted the issuance of new stamps. The 2 cent ones were brown.

It’s hard to believe that we pay 45 cents today to mail a first class letter, no matter the distance it has to travel. And the Postal Service is going broke. It seems computers and technology is putting them out of business. And that’s sad. I wonder what Ben Franklin would think about that.

As you know, the Fillies are having a contest and giving away two $25 gift cards and a grand prize of $100 to either Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Don’t forget to comment to get your name in the pot.


A bit of P&P Trivia: I am one of the original Fillies. In the 5 years I’ve been here, I’ve written 146 blogs. The one that really stands out was one I did on Margaret Heffernan Borland. She drove 1,000 head of cattle from Texas to Wichita, Kansas by herself with only her children to help. To me she exemplifies the true spirit of the pioneer woman.

Website | + posts

Here in the Texas Panhandle, we do love our cowboys. There's just something about a man in a Stetson and jeans that makes my heart beat faster. I'm not much of a cook but I love to do genealogy and I'm a bit of a rock hound. I'm also a NY Times & USA Today bestselling author of historical western romance. You can contact me through my website and I'd love to connect with you on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and more. HAPPY READING!

64 thoughts on “Mail in the Early Days”

  1. What a great post about the history of our mail. Wonder how long mail will be around.
    campbellamyd at gmail dot com

  2. If they would just let the USPS work more like the British postal system, it would be of great help. There wasn’t rural delivery until after the Civil War when there was a need to find jobs for war veterans..I believe..

  3. Hi Vicki C…… goodness you were up early this morning! I guess you got the worm. Glad you enjoyed my blog and found it interesting. Wishing you a great day!

  4. Good Morning Amy C……..I’m glad you found something of interest in my blog. The Fillies do try to bring new subjects to all our readers but after thousands of blogs it sometimes seems we’ve exhausted our supply of material. I haven’t a clue how long the US Mail will last but I sincerely hope they find a way to save it. I think we’d lose something very important if it goes by the wayside.

    Have a good day, my dear!

  5. Good Morning Cate S……..thank you for stopping by. It’s always a pleasure to see you. You’re probably right about the need for the USPS to take some hints from the British. I really do hope they do something soon to save it. The US Mail is part of our culture and to lose it would be the end of something very important. After all, how would we get all those things we order online? I don’t know about you but I do a lot of shopping on the Internet.

    I did not know that about the period following the Civil War. Thank you for sharing that.

  6. Hey there Linda. I love the post today. I have learned coming to Petticoats and Pistols is always a treat because the Fillies are always up to something good. I love your books and you are an awesome person. Have a great day.


  7. Great post, Linda. Love the postal trivia. I’m old enough to remember penny post cards (no, I don’t recall the Pony Express).
    I do miss the days when letters were kept, treasured and passed down. Today it’s mostly email–just dash off, read and delete. Something’s been lost.

  8. Hi Linda, This was a great post. Five cents, I can’t imagine. I think the loss of physical postage is sad.

    A few years ago, I was speaking with a historian from the Marine Corps, who was bemoaning the lack of history from current Marines serving, because most don’t write letters anymore they email. So much of the history is lost to the internet.


  9. Hi Melinda E…….Glad you enjoyed my post. I love when I find interesting subjects to explore. But I rarely know what I’m going to blog about until a few days before it’s due. We’ve exhausted so many subjects in our years of operation. Bless you for the compliments re me and my work!

  10. Hi Elizabeth………I’m sure some days you feel like you were there in the Pony Express days. I do too. LOL But you sure don’t look that old. I’d never have guessed. And you look so glamorous. I’m so glad I got to finally meet you. It was a real treat.

  11. Hi Kirsten………thanks for stopping by. Yes, the Internet has affected almost everything in our lives. It makes me so sad. I love holding on to tradition and the old way of doing things. And while I’m sure the parents and wives of those military families love how quickly they can hear from their loved one, they do bemoan the fact that they can’t hold onto those letters. The Internet has changed our culture. Have a blessed day.

  12. Thanks for the post, Linda. I have a special love for the post office. I have always loved writing letters – and receiving them! Growing up, my mother wrote tons of letters so I guess it’s in my genes! I buy lots of stamps so I keep the post office going!!!!

  13. Thanks for this informative post. I enjoyed learning about stamps and the post office. Ever since I was young and wrote letters to family and friends since it was our only way to communicate.

  14. I love writing notes and letters still and do every chance I get. For me it is a great treat to receive mail. I still buy stamps and send cards and notes out whenever I feel like corresponding.Thanks for this delightful background on the post office.

  15. Very interesting. I love to get mail so I still write when I can so others get mail to. I always hope if I’m sending I’ll get one back.

  16. Linda, I bet I’ve read most of those 146 blogs. I remember the one on Margaret Heffernan Borland. I’m so glad you ladies have rescued so many fascinating people from obscurity for me.
    It’s sad to think that young women today may not have a bundle of love letters to tie a ribbon around and hide away. (Sigh)

  17. Very interesting. History has always been my favorite subject which is why I love Historical romance so much:-)

  18. I wonder what will happen if they do go bankrupt. Private businesses, I suppose? That can’t be cheaper.

    And never thought about history being lost from wars and politician etc. Maybe blog posts will be the new history…

  19. Hi Linda, I just love finding old mail. Cleaning out my mom’s old house when she moved into a retirement home, I found letters my dad had written her mother during the Second World War. They had a truly touching relationship. It’s kinda sad, email taking over so much of our communication. I even get e-Christmas letters from old friends now LOL.

    Two things I love today: the self-sticking stamp and the Forever stamp!

    Good post, filly sister!

  20. Thank you very much for an informative post.
    I also like to get mail. It makes me curious: who sent it, what’s inside the envelope (as long as it isn’t a bill I’m happy) :p

  21. This historical post is great. What we do without our stamps? I write and look forward to letters and have always but that is old school perhaps.

  22. Stamps fascinate me. My mother-in-law had a nice collection that we inherited. I’m afraid hardly anyone writes letters anymore, myself included. With the internet the mail system may disappear some day!

  23. Great post Linda! I have often wonder how they found the recipient of the mail. If the pioneers were on the move, I wonder how they recieved emergency messages.

  24. Writing and receiving a letter is such a wonderful thing. It’s a little sad that what was rare in the past, seems to be a rare thing in the present too. I appreciate the process of sending letter in the olden days, especially because it must not have been easy at all. Taking days, weeks or longer and then having to find the person in small towns. Quite a trip!

  25. Hi Linda,
    Love postal history. I have a Great Grandfather who was a Postmaster in Elmira, New York—way back. (1800’s)
    I really love all kinds of history.
    Mary J

  26. Love the post about the mail. Back in the late 40’s and early 50’s my grandfather would get up at 3 am to pick up the mail back from the post office in the small town in Nebraska where he lived and take it to a post near the rail tracks where as the train roared through town would grab it with a hook for transport to Omaha(I think) where it was sorted and sent on. I am sure that the mail for Oakdale was left in the same manner but I cannot remember returning with a bag to the post office but I loved going with him.

  27. I’m still amazed when I mail something it gets to where it’s going! I still mail birthday cards and I enjoy receiving mail, especially a book!

  28. Hi Linda!
    Love all the history about the post office. It’s fascinating how far we’ve come. I hope your son doesn’t lose his job. I’m trying to recall how much a stamp was when I was a kid. I’m thinking 25 cents, but I can’t recall. The price sure seems to have jumped up in the last 20 years though.

    Great blog!!

  29. Hi Valri…….thanks for stopping by and getting your name in our fantastic contest. It seems we share a love for the Post Office. I cannot imagine life without it. And how on earth would we get the cool things we order on the Internet without a way to ship it. Just my monthly shipment of books keeps the post office here going.

  30. Hi Anne……Strange as it sounds I still do write letters and send cards through the mail. It just makes people feel special to get something that took a few minutes of the sender’s time to do.

    Hi Anon1001………thanks for the prayers. We sure need ’em. There’s talk that they might close this post office here and that would be horrible. Not only would my son lose his job, but the post office is the center of the social activity as it so often is in small towns.

    Hi Ellie………I’m glad you found my blog interesting. I am one of a dying breed who still writes letters and sends cards. At least we’re doing our share to help save the post office.

  31. Hi Cathy……..thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed reading about how the postal service came to be. I loved bringing something new to our readers.

    Hi Judy H………Aw, you’re so sweet. I’m just really glad to know that other people have enjoyed reading the blogs I toil over. And I’m really glad that the one on Margaret Borland. She was such a special lady. Tough as nails and could put many a man to shame. Yes, it’s sad that young women in this day and age won’t have love letters to look back on in their golden years. Something important is being lost.

  32. Hi Sarah Coiner……..doesn’t matter why you stopped by, just glad you did. Your name has been entered in the drawings for the gift cards. Wishing you lots of luck.

    Hi Alisha Woods………You’re a lady after my own heart. History has always fascinated me. I love to see how far we came and the strong men and women who paved the way for me and us as a country. Good luck in the drawings.

    Hi Melissa………thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed my post. Wishing you lots of luck in the contest.

  33. Hi Tanya……..I have an old letter I saved that was from my brother. He sent it to me when I was 15 or 16 years old. He was in the Army and stationed in Germany. I treasured that letter because it made me feel so grown up to get a letter all my own. He probably doesn’t even realize how much it meant to me. One day I’ll show him the letter. And I have several I saved from boyfriends that I like to look at from time to time.

  34. Hi Cheryl St. J………..Glad you enjoyed my post. I remember some memorable scenes from THE SEARCHERS. John Wayne had sent a letter to his family and they read it aloud over and over. I don’t know how many times they read it. Each time got more humorous. People back then really cherished those letters.

  35. Hi Stephanie D, Diane, and Catslady………thanks for stopping by. Glad you ladies enjoyed my blog. We do our best to bring you interesting things that you might not know a lot about.

    Hi Stephy………I’m sure it was headache finding the recipients of the letters in the old west. But the towns were good about forwarding letters on after the person left. They might not know exactly where they went so they often guessed, but everyone worked together to get mail to its rightful owner. Often it took a year or more but they didn’t give up. They knew how precious the letter was. And emergency letters often went through the town sheriffs. They usually knew most of what went on in a town.

  36. Hi Crystal GB………Thanks for stopping by. Glad you could make it.

    Hi Na S……….It’s always nice to see your name come up. Glad you enjoyed my blog. Maybe I was able to share something that you didn’t know.

  37. Hi Mary J………How interesting about your grandfather. I’ll bet he had lots of stories to tell. I think it would a cool job to have. But oh the secrets that they’d have to keep. Wishing you a fantastic day.

  38. Writing an letter is becoming a lost art.. I still write letter to mail..And especially thanks you cards..
    Great post..

  39. Hi Connie J………What special memories you have of your grandfather! I’m glad you got to go with him on those early mornings. That’s something that money can’t buy. Wishing you a great day.

  40. Hi Charlene……..I’m glad my blog caught your interest. I can’t remember how much a stamp cost in my growing up years either. I don’t think I paid any attention to those things back then. I’m sure it was around 20 or 25 cents. And did you know that the postal rates are going to raise another penny the first part of next year? It’ll cost $.46 to mail a letter. Good grief! Thanks for the thoughts for my son. I’m not sure what he’ll do if he gets laid off from the post office. It’s so hard to make a living these days. Wishing you lots of success my dear Filly sister!

  41. Hi Jennifer Tipton……..Thanks for stopping by. I’m glad you enjoyed my post. Yes, it’s mystery to me too how a letter gets to the place its going. Not sure who came up with the zip codes but I’m sure that helped things tremendously. Keep on writing those letters and cards. I plan to do the same. Have a good day!

    • Thanks Linda! I’ve really enjoyed your blog about the history of the stamp and the postal service! I hope your son doesn’t lose his job.

  42. Hi Colleen……..So nice to see your name come up. We’ve officially named you our P&P cheerleader. You always pop in to congratulate the people who win books and things. Thank you for being such a good supporter!

    Hi Kathleen O………I’m sure the next generation won’t even know what a letter is or how special it was to get one. That is so sad. And they sure won’t know how to spell. Texting has taken care of that. I’m really old fashioned but when I text I spell every word out the way it’s supposed to be. Of course, it takes longer but who cares. Keep on sending those letters and cards.

  43. What a great and interesting post! We do grip over the price of postage but everything has went up but wadges. I am not even sure what I pay for stamps anymore I just go buy the book because I have to have them. This sure have change now a lot since then. Most of the time our things get through by mail now.

  44. Good heavens, does anybody remember having a Pen Pal? When I was little, our Sunday School leaflet had a column were kids listed their address and birthdate so you could write to ’em. I picked a girl who had my same birthday and we kept in touch for years. She was a farm girl from Minnesota and had a RFD address, and I remember not knowing what that was.

    Sorry to babble….

  45. Great information. Remember the penny postcard? In the post office, I recently asked for a couple of penny postcards and the guy looked at me like I didn’t know what I was talking about.
    During the pioneer days, women really were the “work horses” of the family. I maybe could have done that when I was younger but I doubt if my granddaughters would ever attempt something as that. They would question Why?

  46. Enjoyed reading this post! Wow – Margaret Heffernan Borland driving 1,000 head of cattle from Texas to Wichita with her kids – that is amazing!

  47. Hi Linda! Thanks for the very interesting article about postage, The Pony Express, and the Post Office. I am one of those people that do not send out much mail anymore due to the high prices. I still send out thank you notes, birthday cards, and a few other things, but don’t send out much. I do hope the USPS doesn’t go broke though. It would mean the loss of many, many jobs.

  48. My mom found a box of old letters in our atic in the 1960’s that were written by some of my dad’s ancestors in the 1840’s & 50’s. One of them stated,”I’m not putting a stamp on this letter because they seem to arrive faster without postage.” Our whole family got a good laugh over that one. Sure wouldn’t happen today.
    My husband’s grandmother was the postmistress here at our farm in the very early 1900’s until 1932 when they closed a lot of the smaller post offices. We still have the cancellation stamp she used and the sign board that hung over the building (just a shack) that was officially the post office. For a number of years after the closing those who had picked up their mail here received their mail in their own mail box mounted on an old wagon wheel on a post in our yard.

  49. Thanks for an interested topic! One of my favorite series a few years back was The Journals of Corrie Belle Hollister by Michael Phillips. Phillips write a companion novel, Grayfox, which featured Corrie’s brother Zack who rode for the Pony Express. Such an interesting (and short) time in history.

  50. I still use the PO a lot. It’s always busy when I go there. Are the people’s employer’s wages too high?

Comments are closed.