Date of Award

Summer 2013

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

First Advisor

Dr Jose Torre

First Reader

Dr W Bruce Leslie

Abstract

The United States Postal Service’s 1896 adoption of Rural Free Delivery modernized rural America: it promised efficiency in communication, undermined traditional practices, and diminished rural isolation by providing farm families with reliable access to daily newspapers, political newsletters, commercial catalogs, and homogeneous consumer goods. Beyond the farm, the establishment of official RFD routes affected village shopkeepers, spurred the Good Roads Movement, initiated changes in daily life and social patterns, changed the structure of Post Office employment, influenced shifts in the parcel delivery industry, and created increased distribution of mass media through the post.

This thesis examines the significance of RFD through the sleigh used to deliver mail on the first RFD route in New York State. Drawing on material culture, contemporary newspaper articles, advertisements, government records, and written accounts of postal delivery in the US, this thesis traces the resistance to and advocacy of the implementation of Rural Free Delivery; it analyzes the political, socioeconomic, and cultural impact of the shift from farmers traveling into town to retrieve their mail, to a US postal worker delivering the mail regularly to the farms. The sleigh represents a conscious effort to provide rural Americans with equal access to information via the postal service, initiating a broader transformation of rural culture through consistent, timely access to mass media regardless of geographic location, class, race, or gender.

Included in

History Commons

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