October 1, 1896: Rural Free Mail Delivery Begins

Rural mail delivery was made on four-sure feet.

In 1896, the nation’s first Rural Free Delivery, known as RFD, was introduced in West Virginia. Prior to this, people in rural areas didn’t have access to mail delivery. To get their mail, farm families had to travel to a town, which, in some cases, could be an all-day trip. And more than half the country’s 76 million people lived on farms.

It was no cooincidence that RFD started in West Virginia, or specifically the eastern panhandle. The Postmaster General was Jefferson County native William Lyne Wilson. He had previously served as a congressman from West Virginia, and as president of West Virginia University.

On October 1, 1896, mail carriers fanned out into the Jefferson County countryside and launched a new era. While RFD had taken years to implement, it took off quickly after the Jefferson County experiment. By the end of 1897, 82 routes were in service across the country. Within a few years, RFD had spread into every part of the country.

For the first time a postal network connected the entire nation, and it all began in West Virginia.