Riding along the mail route map

ArticleOur map bot found some treasure buried at the post office

April 29, 2021
355 words / 2 minutes

This 1796 postal route map popped up in a tweet from our collections bot on Twitter last week! Our map bot trawls the collections and chooses crops from random maps to tweet out to the world.

It’s got everything you’d want – post-roads, distances between post offices, and the cutest diagram of “Progress of the Mail on the Main Line.” This chart shows how long it takes to get mail from one town to the next. The cropped section of it on the right starts in Maine and progresses southward; mail leaves Brewers, ME on a Monday and arrives in Thomaston, ME a week and a half later on a Thursday. You can see the line which denotes the days snaking along through the calendar.

The map is by Abraham Bradley Jr., assistant Postmaster General and a cartographer. With its timetable, it was an incredibly useful piece of technology that was meant to be posted at all large post offices. It also helped people conceptualize the size of their new nation, and provided them a way of measuring its distances through time. It’s the first postal route map of the US, but Bradley published updates over the years and many similar maps came after his 30 year tenure at the Post Office.

Here’s a 1913 parcel post map of the US from our collection, whose table is about postage rate rather than mail route timing. It also has an “appendage used to determine postal zones,” and includes regulations about parcel post in the margin.

We’ve even got post maps from other countries, including this pretty one from Manitoba! It’s a “railway, post office, and municipal map” with the locations of those places marked and indexed on the map. Talk about typography! Check out these maps and, of course, many more, in our digital collections.

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