Teaching Constant Motion: The Job of Railway Post Office Clerks with Primary Sources

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Teaching Constant Motion: The Job of Railway Post Office Clerks with Primary Sources NEW
Teaching Resource Sections: History of the RPO Love this Job
      Prep, Schemes & Exams  Tools of the Trade Lingo
      Camaraderie & Good Times Final Run Timeline
      LOC Resources Printable PDF booklet.  


Prep, Schemes and Exams

teach rpoRailway Post Office (RPO) clerks were considered thee lite of the mail service. RPO clerks were held to the highest level of accountability and took great pride in their work. This level of performance meant spending time off studying schemes to learn exact locations of thousands of towns, villages and connecting communities.

Entrance and regularly scheduled exams called for clerks to sort 100 cards by route and location in two to three minutes demanding 95%-97% accuracy. Some clerks sorted over 600 pieces of mail per hour into pigeon holes on a speeding train. RPO clerks memorized the names and locations of 5,000 - 10,000 post offices; this was before zip codes were established in 1963. Working in every-changing roles, RPO clerks developed superior memorization, learning techniques and skills. Mastering the
                                   intellectual facet of the job equipped RPO clerks for the physical demands on the

Prep, Schemes and Exams: Teaching with Primary Sources

The Primary Sources:

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The Ideas and Tools:

In 1887, Frank H. Galbraith, a Chicago railway mail clerk, created railway maps of the mid-western states. These maps were not published but instead were rented out to RPO clerks as a study guide. These maps have creative art work to help the clerks in memorizing cities, towns and routes.

  • Clerks used practice cases and cards at home between runs to learn their routes. Choose a route on the Galbraith map and create cards to represent communities that would receive mail on that trip. Can you memorize the towns in the proper order?

  • Use a trip report to study the route and activities at each stop. Figure out the distance between each stop and how long it took the train to get there. How much mail was processed on the trip? Do you think this was hard work while standing on a moving train?

Maps were very important to Railway Post Office clerks. They used maps to study routes, cities and railroad connections. Each clerk had their own unique way of studying for exams and maps were useful tools. A clerk knew the exact route their mail train was taking and where they picked up and dropped off mail. There was no time for mistakes and errors resulted in demerits.

  • Analyze the two maps of Mississippi from different centuries. Study the look of the map and then look closely at what the map is telling you. How do the maps reflect changes in this geographical area? What stayed the same?