Print | Back to e-WV The West Virginia Encyclopedia

Rural Free Delivery


Rural Free Delivery, the U.S. Post Office’s program to provide direct delivery of mail to every household in the country, began on October 1, 1896, in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Before this, there was no rural mail delivery, although more than half the country’s 76,000,000 citizens lived in rural areas. Patrons had to visit their local post offices to send or receive mail. In 1891, Postmaster General John Wanamaker had conducted a limited experiment with rural free delivery which was greeted enthusiastically in the press.

In 1895, Congress finally appropriated sufficient funding to allow the Post Office to conduct a more comprehensive study of the service’s potential. Wanamaker’s successor, William Lyne Wilson, a native of Jefferson County, selected his home state for the inaugural effort. Wilson, a former attorney, had served briefly as president of West Virginia University before his election to Congress in 1882, where he served six terms. In later years he was president of Washington and Lee University and regent of the Smithsonian Institution.

On September 1, 1896, Wilson dispatched Col. Thomas B. Marche to Charles Town to oversee the operation. Harry C. Gibson, John W. Lucas, and Frank Young were hired as carriers out of Charles Town, serving under Postmaster Captain George H. Flagg. Melvin T. Strider was hired to carry the mail from nearby Uvilla, and I. Keyes Strider was chosen to operate out of Halltown. The new service debuted on October 1. This effort was so successful that 15 more routes were soon established in other states. By the end of 1897, a total of 82 routes were in operation. Within a few years free rural delivery of mail would be the norm across the country, and ‘‘R.F.D.’’ entered the lingo of America.

Written by Margo Stafford


  1. Comstock, Jim, ed. West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia vol. 19. Richwood: Jim Comstock, 1976.

  2. Fuller, Wayne E. RFD: The Changing Face of America. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1965.

  3. Scheele, Carl H. A Short History of the Mail Service. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1970.

  4. Comstock, Jim, ed. West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia vol. 23. Richwood: Jim Comstock, 1976.

  5. Stafford, Margo. RFD: A West Virginia First. , (Summer 1983).