The establishment of this state's First Rural Free Delivery Mail Route (R.F.D.) by the United State Post Office Department took place at Tecumseh, Nebraska in the year 1896. The implementation of this service by the postal department was an important event for our state and nation, and bestowed an honor upon the citizens of Tecumseh, whose co-operative efforts made that first noble experiment a success.
The story of this historic event began at Tecumseh in the early 1890's. Emanuel H. Spiech, a local druggist and businessman (son-in-law of Kyron Tierney, proprietor of the Sherman House in Tecumseh), secured an appointment to the Post Office Department, Washington, D. C. through his friend, U. S. Senator Charles H. Van Wyck. Mr. Spiech was a native of Switzerland and very familiar with the free delivery mail systems, which was already a reality in that nation. He was convinced that such a system would also be successful in this country, so he set forth to advance the idea among his colleagues in the postal department. By using his knowledge, effort and influence, he was able to convince Postmaster General W. L. Wilson to approve an experiment with the rural free delivery service in the United States.
Historical records reveal that on October 1, 1896, the Post Office Department in Washington, D. C. authorized the establishment of two experimental rural free delivery mail route sites in the United States; one in West Virginia (the home state of Postmaster General W. L. Wilson) and one at Tecumseh, Nebraska (the home of Emanuel H. Spiech). It was at this time that the following article appeared in the November 7, 1896 issue of the Tecumseh Chieftain: - "Within a few days a free postal delivery will be established in connection with the Tecumseh Post Office, which will extend over all of the Nemaha precinct outside of Tecumseh. The plan is an experimental one and is for the purpose of testing the practicability of postal delivery in rural districts." The Chieftain also stated that the service would continue until July 1, 1897, when a report would be made to the postal department, and then transmitted to Congress.
We would be remiss if we failed to mention and credit Hugh L. Cooper, postmaster at Tecumseh (1893-1898), for the important role which he successfully filled in arranging and directing the establishment of that first R. F. D. project. R. F. D. BEGAN AT TECUMSEH The first rural free delivery mail route became a reality on the morning of November 7, 1896, when Ben B. Buffum made the initial trip as carrier on Route 1 from the Tecumseh Post Office. The route ran south and east of Tecumseh, being 27 miles in length. Mr. Buffum driving a team of horses and buggy delivered nine pieces of mail on his first trip. Samuel K. Blythe, living 3/4 mile south of Tecumseh held the honor of being the first patron to receive a parcel of mail delivered by rural free delivery service. Three other routes were also authorized to be established from the Tecumseh Post Office and it is stated that later in the day: Carriers - Charles Campbell, route 2 (west); Frank Freeman, route 3 (north) and Alf Williams, route 4 (east) - made similar trips on their routes. Each carrier traveled an average distance of 20 miles.
Cigar boxes, tin cans and the like were hastily nailed to posts by patrons and served as mailboxes. The carriers' mode of transportation was by horse and buggy, except for Charlie Campbell, whose preference was to go by horse and cart. The story was always told that one day Charlie's friends played a joke on him by mailing numerous empty boxes and packages on his route. The result was that his cart wouldn't hold all the "œmail" so he was obliged to leave town with half of it tied on the horse's harness and around it's neck - any way the prompt delivery was sustained.
Whether the first or second rural free delivery mail route in the United States was established at Tecumseh (the home of Emanuel Spiech) or in West Virginia (the home of Postmaster General W. L. Wilson) was always shrouded in controversy Therefore, we are reproducing a statement from the historic jubilee edition of the Tecumseh Chieftain, published July 2, 1931, as follows: "Ben B. Buffum of Tecumseh was the first rural mail carrier in the United States when the experimental service was established in Tecumseh in 1896. Mr. Buffum was chosen a carrier of Route No. 1 and was the first man to take the oath of office in the whole country." This statement was written by Sam W. Thurber, the long time and respected editor of the Tecumseh Chieftain, who excelled in the knowledge of local history during his time. Therefore this writer does not hesitate in accepting his statement as true fact. We were unable to find any record of a commemorative ceremony of this important event ever being held in Tecumseh. The awareness of the citizens of Tecumseh to the fact that the State's first R. F. D. was established here should generate a sense of pride in our heritage: for it was here, that noble event made history! Written by Thurman Wadley 1977.
Note: In 1996 the United States Postal Department issued a 100th anniversary stamp and the credit was given to West Virginia as being the First Rural Mail Delivery in the United States. Tecumseh can claim the first in Nebraska and the second in the Nation. Current Postmaster: Randy Purdy Rural Route #1 Carrier: Mike Weakland #1 Associate Carrier: Brad Buethe Rural Route #2 Carrier: Royce Bradertscher #2 Associate Carrier: Larry Goracke Rural Route #3 Carrier: David Wilson #3 Associate Carrier: Steve Cawley The sign was erected at the Tecumseh Post Office in July 2007. Cost of the sign was paid for by Lodging Tax Dollars. The sign was dedicated at 4 p.m. on October 4, 2007 in front of the Tecumseh Post Office building. Governor Dave Heineman, State Senator Lavon Heidemann, U.S. Postal Service Manager Todd Case, Michael Smith, Director of the Nebraska State Historical Society and Christian Hornbaker, Director of Nebraska Travel & Tourism and local dignitaries - Lavern Bartels, mayor of Tecumseh, Vernon Kettlehake, president of the Johnson County Chamber of Commerce and Judy Coe, mistress of ceremonies. attended and spoke at the dedication. Special guests included Dorothy Bicknell who is a niece of Ben Buffum, the First Rural Mail Carrier and Elizabeth Wadley who is the daughter of Thurman Wadley who authored the information about the First Rural Mail Delivery and was with the local historical society.
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