Folks out in the country got mail delivery back in February 1903.

Prior to that, farmers had to either pick up their mail in town or, in some cases, rural post offices were operated at farms where the neighbors could pick up their letters and catalogs.

Congress approved Rural Free Delivery and Rep. Thomas Marshall sent out a press release saying he “succeeded in securing the establishment of a considerable number of rural free deliver routes in North Dakota.”

Marshall was from Oakes in Dickey County so he probably knew a bit about rural areas.

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There were some requirements for starting a rural mail route.

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The routes had to be headquartered out of a post office that had daily railroad mail service. The route also could be no longer than 25 miles long and had to have about 100 patrons along the route.

In areas where the 25-mile route didn’t have 100 homes to secure a daily route, an every-other-day route could be organized. Post office regulations said that every-other-day routes should be organized in pairs with one rural mail carrier hired.

Marshall’s letter indicated that post office officials weren’t going to organize the new rural routes. In fact, he asked the newspapers around the state to get the word out so local folks could organize and request the new service.

“I will appreciate it if you will agitate this matter in your paper,” he wrote to the media of the day. “Upon request, I shall be glad to furnish full information and blank petitions which the department requires shall be used.”

And Marshall noted that February was a good time for this type of organization. The plan was to get the petitions from the local people back to Washington during the winter so inspectors could check out planned routes in the spring and start mail delivery in the summer.

A Jamestown Alert article announcing the plan said Stutsman County could possibly have several routes, “if the farmers desired it and take the matter up.”

I’m guessing many Stutsman County farmers took Marshall up on the idea. After all, there was no cost to them to get someone to bring their mail out to a mailbox alongside the road.

And they could then get their junk mail on at least an every-other-day basis like the folks in the city.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at