Railroads helped build the United States of America and they were vital to the free exchange of information and goods that is central to our way of life. Enroute distribution of mail on trains made it possible for letters to travel as quickly as people did in the days when there were no faster alternatives for communication.
Most mail of this era originated in the cities and towns where it received the local city's postmark. The history of the RPO is recorded in the postmarks used on mail that was taken to railroad station letter boxes or handed directly to the clerks on the trains. Because there was often so much to do in a very short time and because a rocking railroad car does not lend itself well to fine detail work, many of these markings are of less-than-stellar quality. Good examples are fetching ever-higher prices as collectors discover the allure of the RPO.
The last United States RPO ran between New York and Washington in 1977. It is hard to believe that more than thirty years have passed! As one who was at Washington Union Station to witness the sad occasion of that last departure, I hope to help preserve the legacy of those who gave their superb efforts to the Post Office of the USA. In an era where everything depends on machines, perhaps we can remember and revere those men of days gone by.
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