Our Iowa Heritage: Iowa – RPO’s.

Railway Post Office (RPO’s) – 1862/1864 – Moving the U.S. mail by train.

1881 Iowa – Railroads by Iowa Railroad Commissioners.
The Railway Post Office (RPO) was introduced in the United States on July 28, 1862, using converted baggage cars on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad (which also delivered letters to the Pony Express). Purpose-built Railway Post Office (RPO) cars entered service on this line a few weeks after the service was initiated. Their purpose was to separate mail for connection with a westbound stagecoach departing soon after the train’s arrival at St. Joseph. The Hannibal & St. Joseph RR eventually became part of the Burlington (CBQ) Railroad.

The first permanent Railway Post Office route was established on August 28, 1864, between Chicago, IL and Clinton, Iowa on the Chicago & Northwestern railway. This service is distinguished from the 1862 operation because mail was sorted to and received from each post office along the route, as well as major post offices beyond the route’s end-points.
(P-0250) This postcard celebrated the July 28, 1862 RPO on the Burlington (CBQ) Railroad.

1933-1934 Celebration of RPO’s at the Century of Progress – Chicago World’s Fair.

(P-0080) This postcard celebrating seventy years of the Railway Post Office system (1862-1932) was issued at the 1933-1934 Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago The Burlington Railroad offered fair-goers an exhibit with an actual postal station operating out of a modern RPO train car.
(P-0081) Here’s an actual postmark of the Burlington Railroad postcard at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.

1938 Celebration of RPO’s at the Iowa State Fair.

(C-0068) This first day cover celebrates both the first day issue of the Iowa Territory 100th Anniversary stamp (US #838) but also the Railway Post Office system in 1862. The Burlington Railroad offered fair-goers an exhibit with a postal station operating out of a RPO train car.
(P-0136) Postmarked Aug. 30, 1938 at the 1938 Iowa State Fair. Celebrating the 1862 beginnings of RPO.

1939 – Celebration of RPO’s at The New York World’s Fair.

(C-0069) This cover celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Railway Post Office System – August 28, 1864. Fair-goers in New York City were offered an exhibit with a postal station working out of a RPO train car.

1954 – 90th Anniversary Celebration of RPO’s.

(C-0070) 1954 90th Anniversary of RPO – Chicago/Omaha RPO – August 28, 1954 This cover celebrates the 90th anniversary of the Railway Post Office System – August 28, 1864, and features a cachet celebrating the 1864 Chicago to Clinton, Iowa RPO
 (C-0071) 1954 90th Anniversary of RPO – Chicago/Omaha RPO – August 28, 1954 This cover celebrates the 90th anniversary of the Railway Post Office System – August 28, 1864, and features a cachet celebrating the 1862 Hannibal & St. Joseph RPO  

RPO’s in Our Neck of the Woods.

Click here to read more about the railroad coming to Iowa City.

1902 Railway Map of Iowa. Linn/Johnson/Washington/Henry County (the big picture)

Yellow Line: Burlington/Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway:  Includes the Muscatine/Montezuma RPO line w/track north to Iowa City, in Washington Co. (west of Kalona/Wellman) is Nira, IA (1933- 2nd day NRA stamp).

Orange Line: Iowa Central Railway: Main east/west line through Wayland.

Red Line: Chicago/Burlington & Quincy Railway: Main CBQ line through Mt. Pleasant, IA (Amtrak today).
1902 Railway Map of Iowa. Linn/Johnson/Washington/Henry County (a closer look)

Blue Line: Chicago/St. Paul/Minnesota & Omaha Railway: Main east/west line through Marion.

Pink Line: Chicago & Northwestern Railway: Main east/west line through Cedar Rapids (Union Pacific today).

Green Line: Chicago/Rock Island & Pacific Railway: Main east/west line through Iowa City, Main north/south line from Trenton, Mo through Fairfield to Washington.

Yellow Line: Burlington/Cedar Rapids & Northern Railway: Includes the Albert Lea/Burlington RPO thru Cedar Rapids (where Sac/Fox Trail is today).

The Burlington (CBQ) Fast Mail RPO’s.

Railway Post Office (RPO)  1884 – 1959 – Burlington (CBQ) Line – U.S. mail via Fast Mail. Chicago and Council Bluffs “Fast Mail” R.P.O. was the first “Fast Mail” line.
Beginning on March 11, 1884, the Burlington Railroad (CBQ) began their “Fast Mail” RPO services from Chicago to Council Bluffs. The US Post Office contracted with the CBQ to take the mail delivered in Chicago by the New York Central “Fast Mail” run (12:35 am) and get it to Council Bluffs in time to be on the Union Pacific “Fast Mail” train to California that pulled out at 7:59 pm. 500 miles, and with transfer time, the Post Office needed it all done in 15 hours and 50 minutes (a normal run would take 20.5 hours). But for 75 years, the CBQ did it!
(C-0076)  Railway Post Office (RPO)  1884 – 1959 – Burlington (CBQ) Line – U.S. mail via Fast Mail. Chicago and Council Bluffs “Fast Mail” R.P.O.
(C-0076)  Our letter here is from businessman A.C. Roger, written in Chicago on September 1, 1897. He’s finished up his work there and is now on his way to California. I’m guessing he forgot to mail the letter in Chicago, so he drops it in the mail as he’s changing trains in Council Bluffs. The Burlington RPO Fast Mail took it from there, postmarking the letter Sept 3, 1897 and delivering to his wife and kids in Brookfield, NY (Madison County).
(P-0206) December 26, 1903 Burlington Railroad RPO/Transfer Clerk Picture Postcard.
(P-0206) Traveling on the Burlington Railroad (the day after Christmas), the sender of this postcard (Dudley) obviously bought his card at the Burlington Depot (while in transit) and mailed it there. With Burlington being a major hub for the CBQ (Chicago-Burlington & Quincy) Railroad, this postcard was stamped by a Transfer Clerk who was responsible for transferring RPO mail from train to train in Burlington. The postcard arrived the next day (Dec 27), delivered to Miss Jeannette Ford (Dudley’s girl?) in Chicago.
(P-0214) Speaking of CB&Q’s Fast Mail, look at this rare postcard from the 1933/1934 Century of Progress in Chicago. To open the second year of the Exposition, on May 26, 1934, CB&Q ran their newest and fastest train, The Zephyr from Denver to Chicago in record time: 13 hours and 5 minutes.
(C-0072) 1959 Burlington Railway RPO cachet & postmark – 75th Anniversary of CBQ Fast Mail (1884-1959)

The Albert Lea/Burlington RPO.

(C-0073) Cover from “Grand Hotel” in Cedar Rapids Postmarked – December 2, 1891 on Albert Lea – Burlington RPO – Burlington/Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad.
(C-0073) Note how the postmark date (Dec 2, 1891) on front side of the cover is inverted. On occasion, postal workers, in their haste, would insert the metal type incorrectly into their hand stamp, resulting in “backwards and/or upside down” lettering when they stamped the postmark on the envelope.
(C-0073) The postal worker on the RPO obviously had that problem, but on the back side, the postal worker in LaCrosse, WI got his “arrival” postmark right!
The Grand Hotel in Cedar Rapids At the turn of the century, First Avenue NE became the hotel center of Cedar Rapids. In addition to the Grand Hotel at the corner of Third Street NE, two additional hotels were built between the Grand and the old railroad station: The Palace Hotel and the Pullman Hotel. The Pullman was initially a wobbly looking two story frame structure. All three of these hotels offered fine saloons in the years before Prohibition. Meanwhile, behind the hotels on the north end of this block was a large lumberyard. In about 1901, a “viaduct” bridge was built for A Avenue NE behind this block from Third Street NE to the “Hill” so vehicles and people could travel over the downtown railroad tracks.
(C-0074) Cover from “The Kirkwood” (Hotel) in Iowa City. Postmarked – June 27, 1898 on Albert Lea – Burlington RPO – Burlington/Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad
(P-0244) This 1906 Postcard pictures the Albert Lea – Burlington RPO line as it runs along the Cedar River just south of Cedar Rapids. On a personal note, this line of track eventually became the walkway of the Cedar River trail, a beautiful walking path that Sandy and I used for many years when we lived in Cedar Rapids.

The Muscatine-Montezuma RPO.

(P-0111) This adorable “I Love to Help You – Do You Need Help?”  penny postcard, postmarked on November 23, 1911 is dripping with historical significance for Iowa City historians, railroad enthusiasts, and hospital history…
(P-0111) Let’s start with the postmark: This is a RPO postmark, meaning the postcard was stamped on-board a Railway Post Office. In this case, the RPO belonged to the Muscatine – Montezuma Railway. Which brings us to another piece of Iowa City history.
(P-0111) The Muscatine – Montezuma Railway was a short-lived railroad (1878-1916) that leased several lines in southeast Iowa from the Rock Island Railroad. The Muscatine Western Railroad was incorporated on May 23, 1870 to build a railroad from Muscatine west to the Missouri River, forming part of the proposed New York City – Council Bluffs Continental Railway. Work began on April 21, 1872, and on May 27 the Burlington, Cedar Rapids and Minnesota Railway (BCR&M) bought the property. The first train ran on July 2 of that year, between Muscatine and the main line of the BCR&M at Nichols (southeast of Iowa City), and track was laid beyond to Riverside (south Iowa City) by the end of 1873. However, after the Panic of 1873 hit, the BCR&M defaulted on payment of interest on its bonds due and did not extend the line beyond Riverside. The Iowa City and Western Railway was organized in 1878 to build from Iowa City west to Montezuma through the English River valley and that line was completed in 1880. By 1902 the Rock Island railroad purchased control of the entire line, accessing it from its main junction point in Iowa City. It was during this time, the line was known as the Muscatine – Montezuma Railway, leasing tracks from the Rock Island.
The sender and receiver of the postcard is of interest as well. This “get-well” card is addressed to Miss Eunice Crawford, who is a patient at the University of Iowa hospital in Iowa City. It was mailed by her Aunt “Sister Mary,” from a community located somewhere on the MM line (see map), postmarked at 1402 (2:02 pm) on the RPO and delivered to the hospital probably later that day. The hospital, at that time, was located on the east side of the University campus.
(P-0082)  Burlington Street Bridge w/Dam & Power House Postcard  Postmarked February 2, 1918 on Muscatine-Montezuma RPO – Rock Island Railroad.
The 1916 MECCA Parade featured a float made to look like an Iowa City/Muscatine Interurban train car. This short-lived train service ran on the Muscatine/Montezuma railroad line, going under the name of Muscatine & Iowa City Railway.

(C-0261) By the 1930’s, the Muscatine – Montezuma RPO, now owned by the Rock Island RR was shortened to a simplified run from Iowa City to Montezuma. This cover, postmarked in 1933, came from the Farmers Lumber Co. in Keswick (just NW of What Cheer) over to Iowa City, and then north to Cedar Rapids.


1912/1913 Honoring the Workers & Services of the Postal Service.

(C-0077) 1912/1913 – Honoring the Workers & Services of the US Postal Service. When the U.S. Postal Department introduced parcel post service in 1912, twelve stamps with various denominations were issued to prepay this fourth-class rate. The four Parcel Post stamps with the lowest denominations (1¢, 2¢, 3¢, and 4¢) feature Postal Service employees at their jobs. The four Parcel Post stamps with denominations of 5¢, 10¢, 15¢, and 20¢ feature Postal Service transportation of the mail. Less than a year later, on July 1, 1913, the Postmaster General made an unusual move, approving the large excess of Parcel Post stamps to be usable on regular mail as well. This series then remained on sale until stocks were exhausted and no further printings were made. Our cover is one of those rarities where the Q1 Parcel Post stamp was used on a regular US 1st-class mailing.
(S-0024) The 1¢ stamp pictures a post office clerk at the distribution section of Washington D.C.’s post office. The job of the postal clerk is to sort the mail and provide retail services to customers. The stamp pictures the clerk sorting packages to go to different sections of the city or parts of the country. Beginning on November 27, 1912, almost 210 million of these 1¢ stamps were issued.
(S-0025) The 2¢ stamp pictures a city carrier, who delivered and collected mail in the cities and suburbs, either by foot or by vehicle. Before mailboxes, the postman delivered mail directly to the residents of each home or business on the route. The 2¢ Parcel Post stamp was first issued on November 27, 1912.
(S-0026) Railway postal clerks sorted the mail in rail cars as the trains traveled to the next station. Mailbags were hung on a hook at stations that were too small for the train to stop.  The clerk grabbed the bag as the train passed at about 70 miles per hour. This stamp was redesigned because it originally focused on a mail truck rather than the clerk. The new design delayed the stamp’s issue until April 5, 1913.
(S-0027) The mail carriers in rural areas used horse-drawn wagons to deliver the mail. A mail wagon from the Post Office Museum in Washington was the model for this stamp. The 4¢ stamp was issued on December 12, 1912, about 77 million of these stamps were printed.
(S-0028) Issued in 1913, expertly engraved Parcel Post issues capture the romance of days gone by. Each pictures a different mode of transportation. The 5¢ Mail Train stamp pictures the specially designed car used to speed mail delivery.  Look carefully and you’ll see a mail hook with a mailbag hanging on it. Because trains didn’t stop at every station, clerks on the train grabbed the bag as it rushed past at high speeds.
(S-0029) The image on the 10¢ stamp is the German ocean liner, the Kronprinz Wilhelm. It is based on a photo taken as the ship came into New York Harbor on February 23, 1902. The skyscrapers in the background didn’t exist in the original photo but were added to make the stamp look like the Staten Island skyway of 1912. The stamp was issued on December 9, 1912 and, almost 57 million of these stamps were printed.
(S-0030) This 15¢ stamp pictures a mail carrier with a full sack of mail going to his mail car. These cars replaced the horse-drawn wagons for delivery vehicles. The stamp was issued on November 27, 1912 and, almost 22 million of these stamps were printed.
(S-0031) The airplane pictured on this 20¢ stamp is from a photo taken at College Park, near Washington. The landscape that forms the background was drawn in later. This was the first stamp in the world that pictured an airplane. The stamps were issued on December 16, 1912 and over 17 million of them were printed.

2019 – Celebrating the American Railroad – 150 Years!

(S-0074) Transcontinental Railroad – 150th Anniversary: The Jupiter, Golden Spike, No. 119  America’s First Transcontinental Railroad was the famous pathway connecting the East and West Coasts of the United States.  It took six years to complete (1863-1869) and shortened cross-country travel from several months to just a few days. In 2019, the USPS issued three Forever stamps commemorating the 150th anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad.  The se-tenant featured the Central Pacific Railroad’s Jupiter on the left, Union Pacific Railroad’s No. 119 on the right, and “Golden Spike” in the center.

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