Over nine decades ago, a recognizable container with a curved tunnel-shaped top, a tube-like interior, a movable signal flag, and a latching door was invented. Now everybody across the country uses this contraption, or some other form of it, such as a slot through a door, or a wall-mounted box attached to a house, or a cluster of boxes in one centralized location.
I’m talking about the much-valued mailbox. And while the exterior shape of it is meant to prevent the collection of water and snow, the interior shape is meant to collect incoming mail. And when that signal flag is up, it informs the postal carrier that there is something outgoing.
In 1915, a U.S. Post Office employee, Roy J. Joroleman, designed this familiar curbside mailbox to save time for the delivery of mail. You see, during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, prior to the use of any type of mailbox, believe it or not, postal carriers actually had to deliver mail to homes by knocking on doors and waiting patiently for someone to answer. And when I say patiently, it has been noted that each postal employee actually lost 1.5 hours each day just waiting for the door to be answered. (A bit unproductive, I’d say. If I had an hour and a half idle time, I’d probably be fired…)
Over time (but before 1915), mail slots in doors or in walls of homes were at least cut into place, so that if someone was not home or unable to answer the door, then mail could be delivered. This resolved the idle time, but it did not resolve everything.
Apparantly there was still an issue of taking time to walk to homes to deliver the mail, especially in rural areas, where they were some distance from the street. (How far, I really don’t know.) In addition, some rural residents had no public mail delivery at all and actually had to pick up their mail at a post office located sometimes miles from their homes. (Interesting facts that I did not know before my research on mailboxes…)
Finally, Mr. Joroleman’s curbside mailbox design was put into practice, especially in those rural areas. Now no more idle time or walking distances. Although, for some reason, some farmers and rural homeowners decided that they wanted to use bushel baskets, tins, and wooden boxes in which to collect their mail instead of the new-fangled mailbox. They seemed to resist purchasing these mailboxes. (I am not sure why, though. Was the cost too much? Or perhaps the custom back then was making due instead of buying new? Or maybe they just wanted to recycle?)
However, in 1923, eight years after Roy’s innovation, it actually, really, truly became mandatory that every house have a mailbox or mail slot for the delivery of mail. (Wow, I did not know that…) I guess that meant no more bushel baskets, tins, or wooden boxes. (I wonder what would happen these days if someone didn’t have a mailbox? Would they be fined?)
Ok, so now you probably know more about facts and history of the mailbox than you ever knew before, and you are really wondering where I am going with all this. Not too far really, other than to show you the mailbox pictures that I took while I was in Alaska with my sister this past summer.
While traveling around, I got into one of my “photography obsessions” where I become enthralled with taking pictures of the same object over and over, such as The Windows of Porvoo and The Homes of Skagway.
These mailbox photos were taken on the highway between Anchorage and Denali, as well as on the various roads of the Kenai Peninsula. While I am not sure what originally caught my eye, I became intrigued by the rows of mailboxes as we drove by. I am sure that I have seen zillions of mailboxes in my life before, but for some reason, perhaps because I was on vacation, I noticed these mailboxes.
I must have stopped a dozen times to take pictures, carefully pulling off the main roads, sometimes onto gravel side streets, not only to photograph entire rows of mailboxes, but also of clusters of two, three or four, and then of individual boxes. It is these individualized pictures that I liked the best. I appreciated the creative decorations that some people put on their mailboxes, as well as the various colors, sizes and shapes.
I believe that the mailbox has been a symbol of joy and fun for people. It seems important to everyone, as we all go to check our mailboxes everyday. (Except, of course, for Sundays.) I know I like to going to the mailbox to get the mail. And while getting the bills, and junk mail, aren’t necessarily a favorite, mail is definitely a way of giving and receiving tangible communication with family and friends.
The Alaskan Flag
Needless to say, though, today there is a more popular way to send and receive mail, especially the communication. Hopefully though, email will never completely replace the iconic mailbox. Thank you, Mr. Joroleman.
All photos Copyright Debby Lee 2009 (some photos altered to exclude names and street numbers)
Facts and History of the mailbox, courtesy of Wikipedia