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Going Green in 1899 PDF Print E-mail
Friday, July 19, 2013 11:52 PM

Those of you who have heard me speak about the US Postal Service in general terms have heard me say, “The US Post Office was one of the most innovative agencies of the government. In fact, almost every aspect of life has been influenced or affected by the fact that there was a mail service in the US.”

OK, you don’t seem all that impressed but you should be. American and foreign automobile manufacturers seem to be blazing new roads with the introduction of electric vehicles. It seems like they are just springing into the marketplace. Look at the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf and of course the luxury end of electric innovation – the $85,000 seven-passenger Tesla (fully-equipped, high-end model). I had to stifle a laugh when I passed a Cadillac ESV hybrid just the other day.

But the truth is, this is old news. Let’s trek back to 1899, when the US Post Office Department was just beginning to experiment with motorized vehicles vs. the good old horse and carriage.

At that time in history automobile manufacturers could be found dotting the landscape from coast to coast – Columbia, Winton, Daimler, Auburn, Krebs, Ford, and Packard. The very first motor-driven vehicles were steam powered. These vehicles were then followed by electric models and finally the gasoline powered engine. Ironically, around 1900, electric land vehicles in America outsold all other types of cars. Then in the several years following 1900, sales of electric vehicles took a nosedive as a new type of vehicle came to dominate the marketplace.

The first experiment for mail collection with the use of an electric vehicle took place in Buffalo, N.Y., on July 2, 1899. The superintendent of city delivery rode in a Columbia electric automobile where he collected mail from 40 boxes in an hour and a half. In order to complete the same task with a horse drawn wagon it would have taken more than twice that amount of time.

Later in Cleveland, Ohio, (one of the original places for city delivery) an electric vehicle produced by Winton Motor Company was used by a letter carrier who collected 126 boxes in an area of over 22 miles in just two hours and 26 minutes. To add to the magnitude of this accomplishment, this was done in December in a snowstorm. This same route was considered a six hour job when using a horse and wagon.

The Postmaster of Detroit Michigan experimented with an electric vehicle produced by Wood Motor Company in 1900. He also tested a gasoline powered vehicle and determined that the gas powered vehicle was preferable to the electric ones since they did not have to spend an equal amount of time charging their batteries as they did in moving the mail. He passed his recommendations on to Postal Headquarters but as can be the case, the first contracts for vehicles were for electric models.

As you may recall rural delivery began in 1896 and some carriers who had to provide their own transportation used electric and gas powered vehicles. The road system was very crude and many that weather and wear and tear could make some roads totally impassible for these new machines. When you come to the museum take a good look at the pictures of vehicles that line the walls opposite the rural sleigh. One in particular has me out scouring for even a skeleton of this 1916 vehicle. I’ll give you a hint, it has 3 wheels but no part of the vehicle is enclosed. The words Harley-Davidson are prominently painted on the side car. Now that would be quite a find.

So when you read about 21st century mail delivery in electric cars, from Segways, and on T-3s, stop and think that there has been over 110 years of R & D from that organization that has been binding the nation together for over 250 years.


NOTE: We are coming up on the last week or two to sign up for our Williamsburg and Monticello trip. Nowhere else can you find a six day/five night trip packed with all the entertainment and activities anything like what you’ll find when you travel with MPH Tours. Call me for more information @ 419-303-5482.


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