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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN

Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


From Encyclopedia Dubuque
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Commemorations have been celebrated with special mailings. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding

POSTAL SERVICE. Until 1833 there was no mail service in the area of Dubuque. Letters to those living in the region were delivered by "chance carriers." (1) Iowa's first post office, Dubuque Mines, was organized on May 27, 1833, within the jurisdiction of Jo Daviess County, Illinois. When Iowa was opened for white settlement on June 1, 1833, the first mail was delivered by horseback by George Ord Karrick.

The first POST OFFICE in Dubuque was located on Main Street between Third and Fourth STREETS in the store of Milo H. Prentice. Appointed the first postmaster in 1833, Prentice kept the mail in his hat or a tea box. He held the office for two years and then was replaced by Guy B. Morrison who was replaced in two years by John KING. (2) Jurisdiction over Dubuque came under the Territory of Michigan on June 28, 1834. This was shown by the hand-stamped "Dubuque Mines Mic.T" (Michigan Territory) on letters mailed in Dubuque.

This period in Dubuque postal history lasted until the area fell under the control of the Wisconsin Territory from July 4, 1836, to July 3, 1838. Mail service expanded in 1836 when George Wallace JONES began a mail route with steamboats on the MISSISSIPPI RIVER. Before Jones began the business, mail took six months to reach the East. The new system reduced delivery to about one month. There were several CANCELS used on letters mailed during this time.

During the period Iowa was part of the Wisconsin Territory, the post office location moved to 7th and Iowa Street and shared a building with the DUBUQUE VISITOR. (3) In 1837 the post office name was changed from Dubuque’s Mines to Dubuque. The physical location of the post office moved to Fourth and Main, the building of EMERSON AND SHIELDS. It was later moved to the Anthenaeum and then the Opera House. (4)

Stampless letter circa 1839

In February, 1838, the citizens held a public meeting to devise ways and means to improve the mail service. A committee was appointed to petition Congress to afford additional mail facilities. This included: 1. A tri-weekly, four-horse, post coach route from Dubuque to Milwaukee; 2. a weekly horse route to the center of Delaware county; 3. a weekly horse mail from Dubuque to the Cedar River settlement; 4. an improvement of the mails between Dubuque and Chicago and between Dubuque and St. Louis.

The delivery of mail increased from once a week to three times by 1849. (5) King remained the postmaster until that year when he assigned to the office to William H. Robbins. He operated the post office in the Globe Building under the administration of President Franklin Pierce when the postmaster became Charles Corkery. In 1857 Corkery was replaced by H. H. Heath. (6)

During the terms of the last two postmasters, the post office was housed in a building on the north side of 6th Street between Main and Locust or in the ODD FELLOWS TEMPLE on Eighth and Bluff. Fire destroyed this building on June 19, 1859. The post office was then moved to the Town Clock Building between Eighth and Ninth STREETS on Main and then to a building on Eighth and Main. The post office remained there until the construction of the DUBUQUE CUSTOM HOUSE AND POST OFFICE on Ninth and Locust. (7)

The Dubuque Custom House and Post Office was located at 9th and Locust streets.

From 1849 until 1857, during the time the Globe Building served as the Dubuque post office, letters could be carried 3,000 miles for three cents with additional miles for ten cents. Dubuque had the only mail distributing office west of Chicago and north of St. Louis.

A permanent POST OFFICE was constructed at 9th and Locust Street through the efforts of Iowa Senator Jones who convinced Congress in 1856 to appropriate $20,000. (8) The site of the post office was expected to be at 7th and Iowa, and the value of the property rose quickly. The land at 9th and Locust, however, was purchased instead and a construction contract for $88,000 was awarded. The work began just before the PANIC OF 1857. The building was completed in 1866 at a cost of $179,000. (9)

In 1873, Dubuque got its first three mail carriers--Frank W. Dyer, George A. Hoerner, and Moses H. MARTIN. Each man was paid $600 a year. Postal carriers received gilt buttons monogrammed "P.O." for their new uniforms on May 4, 1874. (10) In 1877 an order from the postal department in Washington ordered that mail in large cities had to be carried in closed wagons painted red, white and blue. The sides and back of the wagon had to carry the words "United States Mail." Above these words were to be pictures of the American eagle, the American flag, and the Goddess of Liberty. The entire picture of the uniformed mailman and the wagon led the Dubuque Herald to declare it would be "more attractive than a circus."

In 1879 the post office handled 1,075,048 letters and postcards. (11) That same year service was expanded west and south with the addition of two carriers. J.D. Bixby and Will Wood were paid $400 annually plus $200 for their horse feed. (12)

In 1901 the mail consisted of letter, newspapers and some small parcels. During the Christmas season only one extra employee was hired. Mail was hauled to the depot by a contractor who generally owned a livery stable. When it was time to carry the mail to the train, the horses would be unhitched from a wagon and hitched to the baggage wagon. The first parcel post deliveries were made to the business district with a two-wheeled cart. City carriers were expected to report to the post office at 6:30 Sunday morning.. They distributed their mail and delivered it to those who called between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Citizens wearing their finest clothing used the opportunity of picking up their mail to have conversations about surrent events. (13) William BOLEYN became Dubuque's first rural carrier. He was paid $40 per month and had to supply his own carriage, sleigh, wagon and team of horses. Postal employees were not granted their first day off--Sunday--until 1911. The present Dubuque post office was constructed in 1934 at a cost of $513,000.

Experimental airmail flights came to Dubuque in 1912. At a local air show from NUTWOOD PARK, daredevil Lincoln BEACHEY dropped a bag of specially stamped mail to a messenger who took it to the post office. The four-block flight took only a few minutes. In 1950 Mid Continent Airlines began regular airmail service to Dubuque. In the same year, the daily delivery of mail to residences was reduced from twice to once. Business deliveries were reduced from three times to twice a day.

On October 17, 1911, Hugh Robinson had to land on the river while attempting to carry mail between Minneapolis, Minnesota and New Orleans, Louisiana. This attempt was unsuccessful. On October 28, 1911 the Postal Savings System was introduced in Dubuque. Within two years, there were 233 accounts worth a total of $13,087 (value of $331,942.94 in 2019). (14)

but in July 1918, a second airmail route was established with Dubuque as the starting point. An estimated 2,500 pieces of mail were delivered by Charles Walsh in two flights using a Curtiss land plane. Regularly scheduled airmail service, however, was not started until September 26, 1950.

On February 1, 1945 new postal notes went on sale in the post office. Ten different notes were available ranging from $1.00 to $10.00. Eighteen stamps were issued along with the note ranged in value from one cent to ninety cents. The United States first offered postal notes from 1888 to 1894. Since they were payable to the bearer, they lacked the security of money orders. A person wishing to purchase a $2.68 postal note went to the money order window of the post office. The clerk would attach a sixty cent stamp and a three cent stamp to a $2.00 card, which cost five cents. The sender wrote in the name of the person receiving the money on the card, detached the record stub for his/her records, and mailed the card. Postal notes were for amounts of ten dollars or less. (15)


The cutback of passenger train service led the Post Office Department to begin the Highway Post Office service on October 15, 1952. The van, fully equipped to sort and distribute mail, ran a route from Madison, Wisconsin, to Dubuque.

Dubuque mail carriers began the delivery of mail from caddy carts on October 1, 1956. The increased volume of mail was reflected in the postal revenue in Dubuque. In 1934 postal revenue in Dubuque was $284,000. This figure rose past the one million dollar level by 1944 and six million dollars by 1978.

The Dubuque Post Office was designated a Management Sectional Center on November 1, 1961, making it one of 552 such centers in the United States. ZIP (Zone Improvement Plan) was started in Dubuque on July 1, 1963.

In 1963 an estimated 1,050 families living in suburban areas of Dubuque received their mail like they lived in the country. Door-to-door deliveries of mail were only made after sidewalks and streets were paved and homes occupied at least thirty percent of the block. Until those conditions were met, homes received "city mounted delivery" which meant placing a mailbox on a post at the curb. (16) The same year the Accelerated Business Collection and Delivery (ABCD) system was placed in effect. One of ten cities in Iowa to install the service, ABCD ensured delivery by 3:00 p.m of any letters mailed in the downtown business district before 11:00 a.m. Postal authorities explained the service had proven successful in cities attempting to revitalize their downtown business areas. (17)

In 1982 the traditional long lines at the post office began to move more quickly. As a streamlining measure in large service areas, the office began to use electronic scales which computed the weight and mailing costs for packages and relayed the information to the customer via a small video screen. The scales were later tied to a larger system that computer data from post offices around the country. Electronic calculators were installed to monitor daily transactions and relay the information to a master computer in Missouri. (18)

When the postal service decided to route all mail through Cedar Rapids, the citizens of Dubuque reacted strongly. The effort including petitions like this, however, were unsuccessful. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
First Day of Issue envelope stamped in Dubuque. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding
For the Iowa sesquicentennial, special envelopes were stamped in each of Iowa's ninety-nine county seats. Photo courtesy: Bob Reding



1. Oldt, Franklin T. The History of Dubuque County, Iowa. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1880, Online: http://books.google.com/books?id=u9xDAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA464&lpg=PA464&dq=Burton%27s+Furnace+%28dubuque+history%29&source=bl&ots=0CkCGLFR0v&sig=a0Ou1vN3ew6nQUYoq2aOJsXF9Mg&hl=en&sa=X&ei=j3HVT5XALaP42QXVp9iFDw&ved=0CGgQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q=Burton%27s%20Furnace%20%28dubuque%20history%29&f=false (p. 548)

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., p. 549

10.Ibid. p. 549

11. "Caught on the Fly," Dubuque Herald, May 5, 1874, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18740505&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

12. "Increased Postal Facilities," Dubuque Herald, August 28, 1879, p. 4. Online: https://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=uh8FjILnQOkC&dat=18790828&printsec=frontpage&hl=en

13. Nicol, Thomas H. (Superintendent of Mails, Dubuque, 1934. "Remember Old Sunday Crowds at Post Office?" Telegraph-Herald, March 11, 1934, p. 13

14. "Brede Becomes Postmaster of Dubuque Wednesday Morning," Telegraph-Herald, September 28, 1913, p. 13

15. "Postal Notes Nearly Ready," Telegraph Herald, January 14, 1945, p. 3

16. Fedler, Fred. " 'Rural' Mail for the City," Telegraph Herald, November 24, 1963, p. 25

17. "Dubuque to Get New Mail Delivery Plan," Telegraph Herald, February 25, 1963, p. 1

18. "Computerized Scales to Zip Transactions at Dubuque Post Office," Telegraph-Herald, August 13, 1982, p. 4