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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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Amalgamated Thingamabob: 1915

Amalgamated Thingamabob: 1915

An uncaptioned circa 1915 photo showing the assembly of what look like locks or latches inscribed "U.S. MAIL." Like any progressive workplace, it's equipped with spittoons. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size. Update: These are "L.A. locks" being assembled at the Post Office Department's Mail Equipment Shops, 2135 Fifth Street N.E. See the comments for details.

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Registered Mail Bags

I retired from the USPS five years ago and we were still using those on Registered Mail pouches. They could lock any pouch, but we don't use pouches for much else anymore.

Combover and Son

The two guys nearest to the camera look to be related (father and son). Look at their noses, hair lines, wrist bones, ears.

(They even have the same shirt on!)

Mail Equipment Shops, Cont'd.

Regarding the photo, John Worth, former plant manager, tells me:

That is the top floor of the MES, facing Fifth Street. It remained the lock shop until the closing of the bag shop and the upper floor of the building in 2002. The machines to put the pins in the LA Lock cases have components I traced to the 1930's, and we used them to assemble LA Locks well into the 1990's.

Metal bins that appear in the photo are still used in the shop for parts and finished locks. Regrettably, the pulley system and spittoons are long gone.

-- Frank R. Scheer, Railway Mail Service Library

Combovers Through the Ages

The comment on the early 20th century comb-over gives rise to a question as to what is earliest example of a comb-over in photo and painting? Robert E. Lee was an obvious practitioner, so that nails your mid 19th century. Napoleon seems to have used a comb-forward, which if you allow that to count is the beginning of the 19th century.

Relay boxes

I was a mailman during summers in college, and my dad was a mailman for 40 years, and yes those boxes are called relay boxes and they're still used. I never saw any with locks like those though. Each morning, we would have to sign out a set of keys for these boxes, and a can of dog spray. If you ever lost the keys, I think they would have to change all the locks on the relay boxes. I'm not sure why you had to sign out the dog spray though. Maybe they didn't want us spraying each other in the office, you know how unstable mailmen are.

L.A. locks

These are L.A .locks being assembled at the Mail Equipment Shops, 2135 Fifth Street N.E., Washington, in 1915. L.A. locks are named for their inventor, Burton L. Andrus; according to Bryant Alden Long in "Mail by Rail," it stands for "Lock - Andrus." They were primarily used on pouches carrying first class mail.

-- Frank R. Scheer, Railway Mail Service Library

Drop-box locks

The locks Joe is talking about looked more like regular padlocks, and were generally referred to as street letterbox locks. They've long since been replaced by internal locks. The "drop-boxes" are more properly termed "relay boxes" and do serve the purpose Joe described.

More on locks

Unless the Post Office Department back then contracted for the manufacture of postal locks, this shot very possibly could be the Mail Equipment Shops, which to this day manages the supply and distribution of mail processing locks and keys from their D.C. office.

Early Skateboards

Toss some wheels on those stoolbacks!

Them locks

Those are called "L.A. locks," and are still in use in postal operations, though not to the extent as in the past. They're used to lock pouches containing First Class Mail. You shove the notch against the hasp or other closure device and the mechanism inside snaps a gizmo over it. Sorry for the technical terminology. They were used by the zillion in pre-automation days, when mail was transported in canvas pouches and sacks and consigned to the railway system. There's a story behind the monicker "L.A.," which I've forgotten of course. It may be the initials of the guy who invented them.

Workspace lighting

Notice how some of the workers get light in their eyes, and others get light over their shoulders (sort of).


I love the nifty spittoon on the floor next to the guy, right foreground. We all should have one at work.

I propose that when the ergonomic analysis team comes around, they should replace it with an attachable Drool Cup. That would avoid the potentially-injurious repetitive motions of leaning and straining, not to mention the hazards of poor aim.


I've seen things like this before. I'm pretty sure they're locks.

In the deep crevaces of my mind...

That looks like the padlocks used on what we called drop-boxes. Here in the suburbs the mailmen would walk the routes on foot. There were these boxes that were shaped like a regular mailbox with a solid top and were painted green. Another mailman would drive around in the Jeep, putting the deliveries for the routes in the drop-boxes so the walking mailman could just stop and pick up the next batch.

[Crevices? Crevasses? - Dave]

Early Ergonomic Design

Love the ergonomic (not!) design touch with back boards attached to the stools.


Interesting how they rigged backs for the stools. A good thing too. I can't imagine sitting on a stool all day without back support - it aches right now just thinking about it.

Another technological advance

And that's an excellent example of an early 20th century comb-over in the foreground.

SHORPY OLD 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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