Gene Logsdon: Is the Day of Socialized Mail Delivery About Over?


The Contrary Farmer

Our son just installed a new mailbox post for us. The old one was crippled after being wounded repeatedly by Halloweeners and snow plows over the years. What with email and cell phones I wonder if mailbox posts will go the way of hitching posts. The Postal Service says it is going broke but it seems to me all they have to do is make “free” market advertisers and political pollsters pay more for that trash they send our way without our consent and it would be rolling in dough.

Over the years, my favorite daily chore has been walking out the driveway and seeing if salvation has come my way in the mail. I mean that almost literally because before email, I depended on the mail to send out writing I was trying to sell. Then I’d wait hopefully, day after day, for letters of acceptance. And the post office never lost a single rejection slip or payment check in all those years which shows that socialized mail delivery works quite well. Also I lived in 15 different places in six different states in the first half of my life and I looked forward so much to letters from home. People will tell you things in a letter they won’t tell you in person or on Google-surveyed email.

I have been reading old Farm Journal magazines from the late 1800s and they had a lot to say about rural mail and mailboxes and Rural Free Delivery. I would have thought that nothing would have been more welcomed by farmers than to get the mail delivered to their homes free instead of having to go to the post office to pick it up. But no. There is nothing more contrary than country people today or yesterday. They bitched against socialized mailboxes just like they bitch now against socialized medicine. The substance of their obstinacy was that a letter cost them a penny stamp if they picked it up at the post office but two cents with rural “free” delivery. Also, before all the glitches were ironed out of RFD, service didn’t go to everyone equally at the start but everyone had to pay two cents per letter regardless. The arguments were remarkably like the ones leveled today against socialized medicine. Country people don’t like change until it comes and then they love it. If in the distant future, someone tries to take away our socialized mailboxes, it will be country people who fight hardest to keep them. Wilmer Atkinson, the first editor of Farm Journal and a farmer himself, railed against the automobile, too, even more vehemently than Rural Free Delivery. Cars were a symbol of evil big city ways. Then he realized how much money he was losing by not advertising cars and did a complete switcheroo. Today, the most ardent supporters of cars are country conservatives. Only crazy progressive big city liberals rail against them.

It took Wilmer less than a year to change his mind about socialized mailboxes. He figured out soon enough that more farmers would read his magazine if it were delivered to their doors free. But he used very strange arguments to justify his change of heart. One of them was that fathers and husbands would no longer have an excuse to go to the post office for the mail and loiter in town with their cronies. RFD meant they would stay home with their families like they should. Once again he was exhibiting pure conservative wishful thinking. Most farmers are not going to stay home even if you blocked their driveways with a couple dozen mailboxes on concrete posts.