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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]

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