The Nov/Dec 2013 issue of Family Chronicle magazine, "the how-to-guide to tracing your ancestors," has a terrific article by David A. Norris about the mail service in the past. Tika and I did not realize that home-delivery of mail began in 1863 in America and then only in the large cities. Until then folks went to the post office to pick up their mail. Residents in the country also wanted home mail service and Rural Free Delivery (remember R.F.D.??) was begun in the 1890s. At first the mail carriers only provided service along designated routes and folks who did not live along those routes would put up their mailbox on that route...... and might still have to travel some miles to fetch their mail.
Norris' article explains how the style of an address can reveal the years when it was valid. When the mail went only to the post office, only the town was needed and not a street address. Letters would have had home addresses only after home delivery began in 1863 and R.F.D. began in the late 1890s.
The article explains some of the problems faced at first such as duplicate street names in towns. In 1902 in Salt Lake City there were 78 duplicated street names, according to the Salt Lake Telegram. Zip codes were added after World War II when mail volume soared.
When families were separated by time, by geography, or by events such as war, they were hungry for news from home. Mail was and remains a vital link between families.
Tika asks, "Did your family have a mail box like this?"