China, country postman, circa 1900, carrying a yoke with large "mail bags".
A mail bag or mailbag is a generic term for a type of bag used for collecting, carrying, categorizing, and classifying different types of postal material, depending on its priority, destination, and method of transport. It is oftentimes used by a post office system in transporting these different grades of mail.[A] The mailbag is carried by some means of transporting like a mail carrier, animal (e.g., mule, horse), or a mobile post office. Letters and printed material delivered by mail in the seventeen-hundreds were carried by horse in a saddle bag. There are several different types of mailbags for different purposes (e.g., transporting mail to and from post offices, delivering mail to businesses and homes). These different styles of mailbags depend on its size and purpose. It can range from "a large bag used for transporting mail on a truck, plane, etc." to a simple "postbag" used by a mail carrier to deliver mail.
The idea of having mail bags on board ships traveling between Jamaica and Great Britain was established as early as 1780. The name of the ship carrying a letter was put on the corner of the letter so that it would be put into the proper mail bag for the destination intended.
Private Mail Bags or so-called "Locked Bags" are a worldwide solution for specialized mail delivery to a single location. Like PO Box addresses, Private Mail Bag addresses omit the name of the building and street, and include only the number allocated to the user. Private Mail Bag addresses are often used in countries in Africa where there may be no street delivery service. In Europe and North America, where street delivery is more commonplace, large users may be allocated their own postal codes, and consequently need only use their physical address in correspondence; the postal code implies that the recipient receives mail by caller service. Private mail bags may be in lieu of a Post Office Box, but sometimes can go so far as to have an individualized corporate zip code.[B]
The U.S. National Postal Museum says that any bag that carries mail (e.g., letters, magazines, advertisement brochures, packages) is defined as a "Mailbag". A mailbag is called a postbag in England. The form and structure of mailbags has implications for fatigue and industrial injuries to mail carriers.
A mail sack is a lower security class mailbag used to carry second-class, third-class, and fourth-class mail. It does not have a locking mechanism with it.
A mail satchel is a device letter carriers use over-the-shoulder for assisting the delivery of personal mail to businesses and homes.
A mail pouch is a strong material (e.g., canvas) mail bag designed to lock at the top to prevent access into the bag. They are usually used for transporting First-class and registered mail to and from different post offices. Mail pouches also carry military domestic and military airmail.
A catcher pouch was a mail bag used only by the Railway Post Office in exchanging mail when the train did not stop at the town. It was most popular in the late nineteenth century and the early twentieth century.
A mochila was a removable lightweight leather cover put over a horse saddle for carrying mail and was used by the Pony Express.
A portmanteau was a traveling suitcase used as a mailbag in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to carry both letters and newspapers. When it opened it had two different compartments, one for letters and the other for newspapers.
In popular culture
Mailing children is forbidden, photo courtesy of Smithsonian Institution
With the advent of Parcel Post in 1913, after some adults sent their children in the mails— with postage affixed to clothing— the U.S. Postmaster General issued regulations barring such shipment. The theory was that children were under the 50 lb. weight limit, and that it was a lot cheaper to mail them than to pay rail fares. In part, the regulation followed a letter inquiring as to whether parcel post would be appropriate, and the Postmaster General was of the opinion that children were not within the definition of "bees and bugs", which were the only fauna permitted to be mailed. Nevertheless, several children were actually mailed. On 13 June 1920, sending children by Parcel Post was officially forbidden. Thereafter, a mail bag stuffed with a child was prominently featured in a humorous photograph to illustrate the prohibition.
^Morton, C. S.; A postal employee. "I" (PDF). Jamaica: Its Postal History, Postal Stamps and Postmarks: The Jamaica Post Office (1671-1926). p. 1. Archived from the original (PDF) on August 12, 2014. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
^Bloswick, D. S.; Gerber, A.; Sebesta, D.; Johnson, S.; Mecham, W. (June 1994). "Effect of mailbag design on musculoskeletal fatigue and metabolic load". Human Factors. 36 (2, number 2): 210–8. doi:10.1177/001872089403600203. PMID8070787. S2CID 46419902.
^Cushing, Marshall Henry (1892). Story of our post office: the greatest government department in all its phases(Google eBook). Boston, Massachusetts: A.M. Thayer. p. 116. Retrieved August 15, 2012. fourth kind of mail bag, the catcher pouch.
^"Grand Canyon Phantom Ranch" (PDF). Canyon Tough Adventures. October 11, 2011. Retrieved August 21, 2012.
^Cannell, J. C. (1973). The Secrets of Houdini. New York: Dover Publications. pp. 36–41. ISBN 0486229130. Retrieved August 17, 2012. ISBN 9780486229133
Cushing, Marshall (1893). The Story of Our Post Office: The Greatest Government Department in all its Phases. Boston, Massachusetts: A.M. Thayer & Co – via Internet Archive.
Melius, Louis (1917). The American postal service: history of the postal service from the earliest times. The American system described with full details of operation. Washington, D.C.: National Capital Press. Retrieved August 15, 2012 – via Internet Archive.
Look up mailbag in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.