From Military Express to Free Delivery: the Postal History of Des Moines, Iowa
Leonardo, James S.
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The problem. The role of postal history on the urban frontier has not been adequately explored by urban historians. The inauguration of postal service in fledging Midwestern towns served to not only unite separated family and friends, to legitimize place names, and to introduce politics into communities, but through the mail towns were promoted, newspapers gathered the news, new businesses replenished their shelves, and politicians wooed the voters. A detailed examination of the first thirty years of postal service in Des Moines, Iowa, will help to determine how widespread the influence of the mail was on the urban frontier, and will reveal the continuous effort expended toward realizing the goal of improved postal service. Procedure. Daily newspapers and obscure Post Office Department reports constitute the basic sources for the small details that tell the story of postal service improvement. Therefore the main research of this study consisted of the reading of all available Des Moines newspapers published during the period, and searching out applicable Iowa mail contract bid information in Post Office Department reports contained in the voluminous United States Congressional "serial set." Private papers of the postmasters and other politicians provided the political stories behind postmaster appointments. Conclusions. The remarkable advance in postal service experienced by the city of Des Moines during the first thirty years of its existence can be attributed to strategic location, energetic businessmen-postmasters, and a determined manipulation of the political process. In a narrower vein, the study shows that postal matters (delivery time, postal rates, postage stamps, stationery, and postcards) played a greater role in everyday life than urban historians have heretofore indicated. And surviving examples of early Des Moines covers (envelopes) and letters prove that postal efforts to unite the city with the greater American community succeeded.
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