My Thoughts About One of My Favorite Places--Northeastern Indiana's Amish Country

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Shipshewana Walldogs, Part Twelve: Mechanized Mail Carriers

The subject of this Walldogs mural post is the mural which can be found on the south side of the Yoder’s Red Barn building on State Road 5.  (Pull into the parking lot of the next building to the south, for the best view.)  This one is the only mural to have a vertical orientation.

A look at the Shipshewana town website told me where the inspiration for this mural came from.  The image of the five mail carriers on bicycles is taken from an old photo which can be found there.  The caption dates the photo 1904. 

Another photo on the same site shows three mail carriers in open-top automobiles.  The caption here says, “By 1915, mail carriers were delivering the mail using early model cars.”

I wanted to know more about this era.  Last year I watched the television series “Lark Rise to Candleford,” about a small-town English post office at the turn of the twentieth century.  I remembered that the local postman was issued a bicycle at one point and told that he was to use it to deliver the mail.  The poor man had never ridden a bicycle in his life and was terrified of the thing…  So he put the mail on the bicycle and then walked the bicycle on his rounds around the village and countryside—until he was caught in the act, and a young person taught him how to ride it.

I found out a little more at the United States Postal Service website.  In the late 1800s, rural mail delivery was done by horseback or on foot, or by bicycle if the roads were good enough.  Because rural carriers in those days tended to abuse their government-issued bicycles, in 1888 the U.S. Postal Service declared that carriers had to purchase their own bicycles.  (They got a $2-3 monthly maintenance allowance.)  So the identical-looking bicycles in the mural were not government-issue; perhaps they were the sturdiest model (or the only model) available locally.

Another note:  American postal carriers were all men in those days.  Women weren’t given a chance until the onset of World War One, when the men went off to war and the postal service was desperate for replacements.

By the turn of the century, bicycles were used for both rural and town mail delivery in many places, as were motorcycles.  But both were eventually replaced by automobiles and mail trucks nearly everywhere—in America, at least.’s article on the Royal Mail says that British mail carriers are famous for their Pashley Pronto bicycles, which only began to be phased out in 2009.

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