U.S Mail American Mailboxes: A Brief History and Buying Guide

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T1 Aluminium U.S Mailbox
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T1 Aluminium U.S Mailbox


The familiar, iconic, curved roof U.S mailbox was invented in 1915 by Roy J. Jaroleman, not long after the U.S Post Office began to encourage homeowners to install letter slots or wall-mounted mailboxes to save the postman waiting for someone to come to the door. It was soon realised that even more time could be saved by posting letters at the curb-side rather than trudging up long paths. When you consider the larger plot sizes of American houses, especially in rural areas, you can appreciate why curb-side mailboxes were such a good idea. Mail could be delivered much more efficiently and homeowners were more than happy to receive a reliable service in exchange for a short walk to the curb.
The simple functional detail incorporated into the Jaroleman mailbox has stood the test of time, proving the product an all-time design classic. The arched roof was designed to stop the build-up of water and, especially, snow, and resists deformation. It also made the mailbox easier to mass produce as the shape was easily formed. The iconic little red flag, which, contrary to popular belief ISN'T raised by the postman to indicate a delivery, but by the homeowner to let the postman know there is outgoing mail to be collected, also helped speed up the postman's round and therefore improve efficiency. The suspended (usually corrugated) floor helps to keep letters dry from condensation in damp or humid climates. These simple design features, aided by the fact it is cheap to produce, have kept the unchanged Jaroleman design the top selling mailbox in North America, if not the world,  for almost 100 years.
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Steel or Aluminium?
The first U.S mailbox I had was aluminium. It struck me immediately  how light it was - about half the weight of a steel version. However, they look exactly the same, are just as well made, and will never rust. Many people prefer the solidity of steel, but they do not offer as much rust resistance as aluminium, especially if the mailbox is kept in a coastal area exposed to the salty elements. People in these areas should favour aluminium. If you want weightiness, choose galvanised steel. Prices are about the same.
An authentic, U.S-made mailbox (and thus officially approved and embossed as 'Approved By The Postmaster General) will usually be advertised denoted as T1, T2, or T3, the 'T' standing for 'Traditional'. The less often seen 'C' denotes 'contemporary'. These sizes have been approved by the USPS for over 80 years. The approx sizes in CM are as follows (based on the Solar/Gibraltar Group range of mailboxes):
T1:   L48 W17 H22
T2:   L54 W21 H27
T3:   L61 W38 H30
The T1 is by far the most popular mailbox sold in Europe, capable of accommodating typical day-to-day letters (including A4 size), newspapers and small packages. Consider a T2 or 3 if you regularly receive larger packages and more rigid A4 mail.
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Traditionally, American mailboxes have no locking mechanism. A product of a more innocent era, security was never figured into the design. Consider also that they were designed for the more rural areas of the U.S (the design is still known in the U.S as ‘the rural mailbox’), where people would leave their houses unlocked, security was never a priority. Today, in an era of identity theft and vandalism, a locking mechanism is very desirable. The solution is a secondary, locking door behind the front drop-down door. Letters are placed in the mailbox via a slot in the locking door. Of course, this robs the mailbox of it’s package swallowing abilities, unless you can come to an arrangement with a friendly postman who will lock the door for you and pop the key through the slot, until you open it with your other key. Another solution I’ve seen is a mailbox insert. In effect, this is a a secondary rectangular locking mailbox that fits into the outer mailbox. So not only do you have a slot with a locking door, but a cavity above, albeit non-locking, for newspapers, magazines, A4 post and small packages if you are willing to take the risk of theft. Currently, locking U.S mailboxes are hard to source in the U.K. It is not a priority for most buyers although we do get asked now and then if we sell locking ones. We will be stocking them soon, though their much higher price tag won't make them best sellers!
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American mailboxes are traditionally mounted on wooden posts set or knocked into the ground. Cedarwood tends to be the wood of choice for the job. 4" x 4" or even 6 x 6" is not uncommon in the U.S. These thick wooden posts are extremely sturdy (especially if set in concrete) and the robust look they give is very pleasing to the eye in my opinion, especially when the are attached to a horizontal extended arm as in the picture above.  Aluminium stands are also available as are PVC ones in white. For those on a budget are metal pole type stands that come with a bracket that screws through the existing holes along the length of the bottom of most U.S mailboxes. They are usually 35 - 50mm in diameter. Wall mounting can be achieved quite easily with a couple of 15cm/6" shelf brackets. Some well painted ornate iron ones would look good and should weather the elements. I would put some bubble wrap  between the box and the wall to avoid scuffing.

Is a U.S mailbox authentic if it's not made in the U.S? After all, it's just a tin box, right? I have seen some good Chinese copies, but MANY awful ones, with bad welding, poor paint jobs and crudely punched mounting holes. If it's not advertised as being made in the USA, it will be Chinese. Therefore it has not been officially approved by the postmaster general, as the U.S ones have. Gibraltar/Solar Group, Rubbermaid and Steel City Corp are three of the main U.S makers. Some have the USPS Eagle motif embossed on the front door, which is a nice touch. If a supplier can guarantee it's quality, go ahead and buy a far-east copy if you are on a budget. But an 'authentic' one will only be a few quid more.
                                               I hope this guide has been helpful!
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