History of Express Mail

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In April 1888 a Committee was set up to examine the establishment of an express service using boy messengers. This was a result of competition from various local delivery services such as the Boy Messenger Company. The service was eventually introduced on 25 March 1891 in various district offices in London. By 4 April it had been extended to a total of 91 in London and others in various provincial cities such as Edinburgh, Dublin, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Birmingham and later to 43 provincial offices. Detailed returns were kept for each office.

Charges additional to the postage were 2d for the first mile and 3d for each succeeding mile, though the fee could be much higher if no public conveyance was available and a cab needed to be taken. Initially at least the latter was avoided, buses, trains and even a steamboat being used. “As a rule the boys have managed to find their way about tolerably well.” On the opening day a total of 141 items were delivered in and about London.

The only stipulation was that the words “Express Delivery” should be boldly written on the top left of the address side. Mostly items were sent to the Editors of evening newspapers. At the same time an “Electric Call” system was introduced to clubs and hotels in London where a messenger was called by telephone.

A revision of the system was originally announced for 1 July 1891 but suddenly postponed till 1 August. Now there were two services. The first was for local delivery by express throughout as before. A new service was for letters conveyed by the regular post to an express delivery office and then delivered by special messenger. The same fees were applicable. Between the original announcement and the belated introduction of the revised system there was one significant addition: red express labels were now to be attached to each item.

New rates applied from 1 January 1892, fixed at 3d per mile throughout up to 1lb for both services. Postage was no longer required. From 1 August 1892 the express service was extended to certain foreign countries, most main continental European countries, Japan, Siam and a few others (Chile, Liberia, Paraguay and San Salvador). Inward delivery from the same countries would be handstamped “Express Fee Paid 3d” or “Express Fee Not Paid” as appropriate.