J.W. Thompson posing by the mailbox of Henry G. Beye, who came to Frontier County by covered wagon around 1898. He, his wife Caroline Beisner, and his two sons Art and Herman farmed a section of land three miles south of Farnam. Farnam’s History relates that the pasture and windmill in the background of Thompson’s picture were constructed after a new road to town was graded. Beye was the fourth box on Thompson’s route.
J.W. Thompson worked during the earliest days of the Rural Free Delivery (RFD) mail system. Thompson was in charge of Route 1 in Farnam, Nebraska.
Thompson was born on February 14, 1866, in eastern Nebraska. When he was 11, his family moved to Frontier County, where his father, a carpenter, established a brickyard. Two years later, his father sold the brickyard and took up ranching. The family of eleven lived in a sod house until a permanent home was built. Thompson began his own career as a carpenter, but he and his wife, Ida B. Owen, later homesteaded north of Farnam. In 1906, they moved to Farnam with their three children, Owen, Maude, and Mabel and he began delivering mail.
RFD revolutionized the way farm families kept in touch with the rest of the world. The service was tried as an experimental run in West Virginia on October 1, 1896. It was implemented nationwide on July 1, 1902. Before RFD, farm families had to pick up their mail in the nearest town which could be hours or days away. After RFD they could order machinery and supplies and easily send and receive letters and news. RFD also forced the government to improve the conditions of the roads and stimulated economic growth since families could buy and sell goods by mail and by using the improved roads.
In the early years, rural carriers received a salary of a maximum of $300 per year and provided their own transportation. In 1928, carriers who served a route of 24 miles, six days per week received $1800.00 per year plus four cents per mile for equipment maintenance. Thompson first used a horse and carriage and later conducted his route by automobile. Thompson retired in 1931 and his son Owen took over the route. Thompson died on March 14, 1938.
Items pictured below were used by J.W. Thompson while working for the Rural Free Delivery mail system. Source: History Nebraska Permanent Collection (11055-2718-2720)
Mail Carrier’s Cap
Mail Carrier’s Bag
Mail Carrier’s Strongbox whose contents at the time of acquisition included a 1953 list of U.S. Parcel Post Rates, two sheets of notes, a letter scale, parchment paper, two blotters, a package scale, two address books, and a 1928 Postal Laws and Regulation book.