It began with only five routes over ten miles. 33 years after free delivery in cities had begun.
In 1893, a United States service, Rural Free Delivery (RFD) came into being. It uses a network of rural routes, traveled by carriers to deliver and pick up mail at roadside mailboxes. Prior to RFD, unlike city-dwellers, Americans living in more remote areas had to pick up mail themselves at sometimes distant post offices or pay expensive private carriers for delivery.
The U.S. Post Office began testing RFD as early as 1890. They began with five routes covering ten miles but It wasn’t until years later, when Georgia Congressman Thomas E. Watson pushed it through legislation, that the practice was mandated. That year, 82 rural routes were put into operation. A massive undertaking, nationwide RFD service took several years to implement and was not adopted generally in the U.S. Post Office until 1902.
Right from the start RFD became a political battlefield, with politicians promising it to voters and using it themselves to reach voters. Other controversies surrounded the proposed service too. Some opponents simply objected to the cost of the service. Private express carriers thought RFD would eliminate their business, or that mail order merchants selling through catalogs, such as Sears, Roebuck and Company might present significant competition. Many town shopkeepers worried the service would reduce farm families' visits to town to buy merchandise.
A major department store and Postmaster General John Wanamaker, was zealously supportive of RFD since many thousands of rural Americans wanted to send and receive retail orders inexpensively. Another major source of support of the rural mail delivery service came from The National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry, the nation's oldest agricultural organization.
In 1916, the Rural Post "Good" Roads Act authorized federal funds for rural post roads. Today, the U.S.P.S. employs some 617,000 workers, making it the third-largest civilian employer in the United States after the federal government and Wal-Mart. In 2006, it was reported that the United States Postal Service delivers about 660 million pieces of mail to as many as 142 million delivery points. As of 2016, the USPS operates 31,585 post offices and locations in the U.S., and delivers 153.4 billion pieces of mail annually. It operates one of the largest civilian vehicle fleets in the world, with an estimated 227,896 vehicles.