THE MAILBOX – A Brief History

It’s probably the number one home item that’s used daily yet rarely ever thought about; you guessed it – it’s your mailbox. In current times, when sending someone a message is just a text away, we forget how innovative it was to have mail delivered right to your home.

Old photo of post man handing mail to women

Photo Credit: Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum


When Free City Delivery Service through the Post Office first began in 1863, it was an instant success. Residents no longer needed to make trips down to the post office to send or receive their mail. Because delivery service was so new, the postal service didn’t immediately require residents to have a mailbox or any other type of receptacle to place the mail in. Carriers would often ring a bell or knock on the door, then wait for someone to answer or just leave the mail outside, exposed to the weather.

Manufacturing companies quickly saw a profitable opportunity to make mail receptacles for home residents, and began selling mailboxes in many different types of designs, with very little uniformity. Those who didn’t want to buy a mailbox would use anything that they could fashion into one including old cans, food cartons, or crates. This ultimately led to an unsightly display of random repositories.


In 1903 the postal service decided to address the issue of unsuitable containers by appointing a five-man commission to examine manufactured mailboxes. Unsatisfied with designs by manufacturing companies, the Post Office Department decided to design their own mailbox. By 1915, a postal engineer named Roy Joroleman designed the tunnel style USPS mailbox similar to the rural mailbox we know today.

Since then, mailboxes have evolved to address new delivery needs. You can find locking mailboxes for mail security, heavy-duty mailboxes to withstand vandalism, extra-large mailboxes for package deliveries, and more.

To find a mailbox that best suits your needs, read our Mailbox Guide.

Black mailbox on decorative background

Modern Tunnel Style Mailbox