Historic Fulfillment Services: RPO

Central Pacific Railroad Photographic History MuseumFulfilling the postal needs of Americans living across this nation has always been a big job. In previous installments of our Historic Fulfillment Services series, we’ve talked about various organizations that contributed to fulfilling the country’s postal needs, such as the Wells Fargo Wagon and the USPS itself.

Today we’re talking about Railway post offices, or RPO’s, which were an integral part of this mail system before the advent of reliable air and highway transport for postal deliveries. The RPO consisted of railroad cars operated in the passenger service area where mail was carried, sorted, and sent on its way through the regular postal service. Though no one is sure of the exact date when post first ran by rail, by the mid-1800’s sorting and carrying mail for the USPS was a huge revenue generator for railroad companies. Some railways were even able to take a loss on costs related to moving passengers via rail because they made up for it with postal transportation fees.

The first official RPO was launched in 1862, using converted baggage cars. Eventually RPO cars were specially designed for this purpose, and came with hinged iron fixtures that could be unfolded to hold pouches, racks and sorting tables as needed. Cars were also outfitted with a hook used to snag leather or canvas bags of outgoing mail from trackside mail cranes in towns that did not warrant a railroad stop. Bags of mail were delivered unceremoniously to these tiny towns with a heft or a kick out the side of the car.

The decline of the RPO system began with the advancement of aviation technology and an increase in highway development in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. In 1967, the USPS suspended all use of the RPO system, which had a huge impact on railway revenues. The cancellation of many passenger routes can be directly attributed to the loss of mail transport revenue, which had previously been the only thing keeping passenger travel rolling.

At Ohio Valley Goodwill, we recognize that fulfillment services like these can come and go with the changing times. We keep pace with these evolutions in customer preference and technology to ensure that you’re getting the most efficient and effective fulfillment services we can offer. Yet no matter what type of fulfillment processes we use, rest assured that we are always providing meaningful employment to individuals with disabilities, giving them the opportunity to earn a living, gain confidence, and enjoy participating in their communities. Sometimes the best fulfillment services aren’t just about providing fulfillment for your customers, but providing fulfilling jobs to the community, too.

When you’re ready to learn more about fulfillment services from Ohio Valley Goodwill Industries, get a quote from us!