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Our holdings include hundreds of glass and film negatives/transparencies that we've scanned ourselves; in addition, many other photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs) in the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) They are adjusted, restored and reworked by your webmaster in accordance with his aesthetic sensibilities before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here. All of these images (including "derivative works") are protected by copyright laws of the United States and other jurisdictions and may not be sold, reproduced or otherwise used for commercial purposes without permission.

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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Rail Mail: 1912

Rail Mail: 1912

Chicago circa 1912. "U.S. Mail Dept., Chicago & North Western Railway station." 8x10 inch dry plate glass negative, Detroit Publishing Company. View full size.

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Sorting Schemes

Postal clerks sorting mail had to understand the "schemes" that allowed them to toss the letter into the right bag. Trains (and later trucks) followed complicated routes and schedules and the "schemes" allowed the sorters to minimize delivery time. For instance, a letter from Chicago to Winona, Minnesota could take one of 4 different railroads, with trains leaving at various times. In 1920, say, a letter could go by the Milwaukee Road, Burlington, Chicago Northwestern, and the Chicago Great Western.

Rail Mail workroom

So what goes on here is that canvas mail sacks are hung on all those racks made out of metal pipes. Mail (small parcels, bundles of letters & large envelopes) gets dumped on the big flat tables and little by little gets shoved down the chutes to the smaller troughs facing the sack racks. Mail clerks standing there glance at the addresses and toss the bundles & parcels into the appropriate sacks, each of which is destined for dispatch on a particular train. The letters have been previously sorted in the multi-hole cases further back. At the end of their tour the clerks go to their lockers along the walls, take off their denim aprons, don their coats and head to the nearest tavern, then home to get yelled at for getting in so late.

Florescent Tubes

It looks like florescent tubes are lighting the work area. When were these invented. This is 1912.

[I think you mean "fluorescent." The fixtures in the photo are mercury-discharge lamps of the Cooper-Hewitt design. Also seen here and here. - Dave]

SHORPY HISTORICAL PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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