In 1927, Samuil Marshak (1887-1964), a writer in the Soviet Union, published a children’s book about the post office. Pochta has since been republished many times, illustrated by many illustrators, and translated into English as Hail to the Mail. The story follows a letter that’s chasing its intended recipient around the world. On a similar quest, I’ve been hunting for the edition illustrated by Yuri Korovin, published in Moscow in the 1960s and ’70s. I recently found it in Nicosia, Cyprus, thanks to eBay and Alexandre Gorchkov. I love the story and the artwork; I only wish my Russian was better.
The story begins with a knock on the door of Boris Zhitkov (1882-1938), a Russian children’s book author.
Boris gives the postman the sad news that the letter’s intended recipient has gone to Berlin.
And so the letter must follow!
But he has already gone…
The letter follows him there, but he has just left for South America…
And so the letter takes a sea voyage, but the recipient has left…
… for Russia, and there the letter finds him, at last.
Thanks to postal workers all around the world.
In October of 1935, the Philatelic Club of Los Angeles announced a project to revive the delivery of U.S. Mail by camel, with the animals carrying mail bags from Fort Tejon south to Los Angeles. But the service that the club was commemorating hadn’t been all that successful, nor was their history accurate.
As it happened, “camel express” mail was tried twice in September of 1860, with the camels leaving Los Angeles with mail for Fort Mojave on the Colorado River, about 250 hot and desolate miles to the east. Neither camel made it; the first died of exhaustion after 120 miles, near present-day Barstow; on the second attempt, the camel dropped dead just a few more miles farther to the east. In both cases, the mail had to be carried on foot for the remainder of the journey by the camel rider.
The officer in charge, Capt. Winfield Scott Hancock, the Assistant Quartermaster in Los Angeles, halted the experiment, having learned – too late for the camels – that they were not bred for speed but to travel slowly with heavy burdens. And the camels, while they lived, had in fact been no faster than the two-mule buckboard then carrying the mail to Fort Mojave.
So yes, camels did actually carry the mail in the United States, but not for long.
Mailman O.D. Hammond poses with horse, buggy, wife and dog at his home on Maple Street in Cuba, N.Y.
The mail comes by horse-drawn sleigh in Breckenridge, Minnesota.
The postman uses a wagon in Chester, Nova Scotia.
Holding the bag for the oncoming mail train, and I’d want to be sure I had the distance right.
Several pages from the classic Mr. Mailman (1954) by Jene Barr, with illustrations by Chauncey Maltman.
Postmarked Warren, Oregon, 1911
A postcard of “Il Portalettere Moro” (1751) by Pietro Longhi (1701-1785), who painted scenes of contemporary life in Venice. It appears that many people translate the title to “The Moor’s Letter” or “The Letter of the Moor,” but I’d feel better with “The Moorish Letter Carrier” or “The Moorish Postman.” Here’s an image of the original painting: