Dakota Datebook

Post Routes

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

  Now that Thanksgiving has passed, for those of us who aren’t early birds or late ducks, it’s time to get the Christmas cards sent out. You know the drill. Some people hate it, some people love it, but we just can’t stop the tradition. So sit on down, write out those cards, slap on a stamp and an address, and use a little of your leftover Thanksgiving spirit to give thanks for the post offices and postal routes.

In 1903, sending Christmas letters—or any letters, really—could be a lot harder. There were no computers, of course, so everything was carefully done by hand. Making it even more difficult for people in North Dakota was that some families didn’t even have a nearby postal route!

The government had established a rule stating that there needed to be 100 families who would use a route, before it could be established. However, in North Dakota and many other states, families were very spread out. At the time, North Dakota had only 34 rural “free delivery mail routes.”

By way of comparison, the United states as a whole had 12,000 rural postage routes, which averaged out to about 30 routes per congressman. But in North Dakota, it was only 17 for each congressman. On this date, after the two congressman from North Dakota had taken the issue to the postmaster general, a bit of a buzz was created, as reported by the Hankinson News.

Mr. Burleigh F. Spalding, representative for North Dakota, held talks with the postmaster about the population and routes. He agreed and said (the post office) would “take it up at once.” Spalding said that the rule for 100 families worked fine in “thickly settled farm communities, where the average of five in a family holds good.” He claimed that especially in the Dakotas and Montana, each family also had up to twenty-five farm hands, making a much higher number of those to be served by the route.

They applied for almost a hundred more routes to be added to their established postal system at a time when letters were the only way of staying in touch with family and friends back home. And by the next year, many Dakotans would be able to send their own Christmas greetings a little bit easier than they had before.

By Sarah Walker

Dec. 3, 1903, Hankinson News, p.1 

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Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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