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.  

Tools of the Trade

teach rpoRailway Post Offices rolled over thousands of route miles every day with onboard clerks sorting, bundling and sometimes catching and delivering mail "on the fly" without ever slowing down. Accuracy mattered! Facing slips were attached to each bundle of letters that told the name of the sorting clerk. An error would result in demerits and a delay in delivery. RPO clerks took great pride in their jobs and performance.

Each RPO clerk carried a case holding both personal and work items. They packed a change of clothes for overnight trips and meals to be eaten on the train. Required supplies included items like facing slips and labels stamped at home with their name and train number for accountability, stamps, finger knife, badge, revolver and more.

Tools of the Trade: Teaching with Primary Sources

The Primary Sources:

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Online Resources:

Danger on the Rail - Smithsonian National Postal Museum

The Ideas and Tools:

Security was a major issue for Railway Post Office clerks. The mail train would sometimes carry large amounts of money or securities, clerks had to be prepared to protect the mail. In 1920 alone there were over a dozen robberies resulting in theft of over $6.3 million. This is one reason clerks were required to carry a .38-caliber pistol.

  • Analyze a photo of a crew inside of a mail car that includes Marines guarding the mail. We will discuss why mail trains needed security and will look at other security equipment RPO clerks used.

  • Students will look at other primary source images that represent tools used by RPO clerks. They will then create a scenario to explain why this scene may have occurred and why someone would capture it in a photograph.