publications

A Trip on the Fast Mail

Much of America’s mail was once sorted and distributed by the railway mail service. The first experiment in distributing U.S. mail in so-called “post offices on wheels” was made in 1862 between Hannibal and St. Joseph, Missouri. The last railway post office in the nation, which traveled between New York and Washington D.C., was discontinued in 1977. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on August 12, 1892, described mail sorting and distribution aboard the Burlington Railroad’s “celebrated fast mail from Illinois to the Missouri river,” which carried mail for Nebraska and the West.



The Journal reporter said: “The fast mail [from Chicago] on the Burlington is not simply an engine and a mail car. There are five coaches-an express car, two cars for handling mail and two for storage. In the storage cars are piled up row upon row of sacks of mail which have been untouched from New York and New England offices. Also boxes of stamped envelopes and various postal supplies. The other two cars are veritable bee hives crammed with letters and papers. One of them is used for letters and the delivery and reception of mail at the various stations. The other is exclusively a [news]paper car and upon certain days of the week when weekly papers are numerous presents a most animated scene. . . .



“At Burlington the far eastern mail reposing heretofore in the sacks in which it left for eastern points, is dumped out into huge baskets and sorted for distribution in the west. On a busy day this is no slight task as there are hundreds upon hundreds of pieces to be sorted, tied up in packages and deposited in proper sacks. Four men, including the head clerk, work upon the letters and see to the discharge and receipt of mail. The others in the second car handle papers. The train rushed along at breakneck speed and occasionally rounds a curve so rapidly as to pitch the mail out of the letter boxes. Every clerk putting up a package must attach a slip with his name, the date and number of train. If a mistake is discovered it is easy to trace it. The train stops at important stations where large quantities of mail are to be put off. Albia seemed to be the most fortunate of Iowa towns. This is so because here connection is made for Des Moines and the daily papers are served to a large part of Iowa by this means. The fast mail of course runs very rapidly and has a constant habit of being on time.



“Before reaching Pacific Junction the Nebraska and Colorado mail is made up ready for transfer. The train arrives at 4:45 p.m., a B.& M. train is waiting and the mail is quickly put aboard and is whirled away to Ashland where it catches the evening fast train west bound, gets into Lincoln at 6:19 and into Denver the following morning at 7 a.m.” 

Become a Member!

Our members make history happen.

Join Now

Other Publications

The Bachelors’ Protective Union of Kearney

When the Bachelors' Protective Union gave a gala reception for two of its newly married, former members and their brides in March of 1890, the social club for young, ...

U.S. Weather Bureau in 1890s Nebraska

The U.S. Weather Bureau was established by an act of Congress on October 1, 1890. It took over the weather service that had been established in the office of the Chief ...

Canning the Way to Victory

During American participation in World War I the U.S. Food Administration, under the direction of Herbert Hoover, launched a massive campaign to persuade Americans to ...

The Shoemaker’s Ashes

"Edward Kuehl, one of the most peculiar characters that ever lived in Omaha, or anywhere else, was found dead in his bed last night in the back room of his place of ...

Crazy Horse Surrender Ledger Foreward

Red Dog, an Oglala Lakota who lived at the Red Cloud Agency, Nebraska, 1876-77 (Nebraska State Historical Society RG2955.ph).   In the summer of 1876, following the ...

Darryl F. Zanuck

Darryl F. Zanuck Darryl F. Zanuck (1902-1979), a native Nebraskan, produced some of Hollywood's most important and controversial films. He helped found 20th Century Fox ...

The Burlington’s Profitable Pork Special

Nebraska railroads were much concerned with developing an adequate economy in the areas they served. The Burlington, for example, had a long history of caring for the ...

Bungalow Filling Stations

After the giant Standard Oil Company was broken into thirty-four separate companies in 1911, the newly independent Standard Oil of Nebraska dominated the state's market ...

The Bull Fight

This is the perfect time of year for a visit to the old fishin' hole. But a group of fisherfolk from Plainview discovered that this bucolic pastime sometimes has ...

Buffalo Soldiers West

African-American soldiers on the western frontier are the focus of an exhibit at the Nebraska History Museum in Lincoln. Buffalo Soldiers West, on loan from the Colorado ...

Protection for Buffalo

The extermination of the buffalo on the Plains occurred largely between 1870 and 1885. The Nebraska State Journal of Lincoln on February 1, 1874, editorialized in vain ...

Buffalo Hunting

In late October 1877 young Rolf Johnson and three friends left their homes in Phelps County, Nebraska, for a buffalo hunt in northeastern Colorado. The hunt was not very ...
About History Nebraska
History Nebraska was founded in 1878 as the Nebraska State Historical Society by citizens who recognized Nebraska was going through great changes and they sought to record the stories of both indigenous and immigrant peoples. It was designated a state institution and began receiving funds from the legislature in 1883. Legislation in 1994 changed History Nebraska from a state institution to a state agency. The division is headed by Interim Director and CEO Jill Dolberg. They are assisted by an administrative staff responsible for financial and personnel functions, museum store services, security, and facilities maintenance for History Nebraska.
Explore Nebraska
Discover the real places and people of our past at these History Nebraska sites.

Upcoming Events

View our new and upcoming events to see how you can get involved.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.

Latest Hall of Fame Inductee

The Nebraska Hall of Fame was established in 1961 to officially recognize prominent Nebraskans.

Become a Member

The work we do to discover, preserve, and share Nebraska's history wouldn't be possible without the support of History Nebraska members.
Nebraska Collections

History Nebraska's mission is to collect, preserve, and open our shared history to all Nebraskans.

Our YouTube Video Collection

Get a closer look at Nebraska's history through your own eyes, with our extensive video collections.

Additional Research Resources

History Nebraska Research and Reference Services help connect you to the material we collect and preserve.

Support History Nebraska
Make a cash donation to help us acquire, preserve, and interpret Nebraska’s history. Gifts to History Nebraska help leave a legacy and may help your taxes, too! Support the work of History Nebraska by donating to the History Nebraska Foundation today.

Volunteers are the heroes of History Nebraska. So much history, so little time! Your work helps us share access to Nebraska’s stories at our museums and sites, the reference room, and online.