America was built on the principle of free expression of ideas.
From the beginning of the country newspapers operated with the assurance of a free press.
As a result of the Post Office Act of 1792, a new form of the post office became a vital communication link for the nation, carrying not just private correspondence, but also newspapers, which were allowed in the mails at a low rate to promote the spread of information across the states.
The post office service then made accessible newspapers and magazines that expressed political ideas that might indeed diverge from one another.
By 1900 everything changed and the post office became the major vehicle to sell products.
In his book Land of Desire: Merchants, Power, and the Rise of a New American Culture historian William Leach said, “In the nineteenth century, the goal of the U. S. Postal Service was to make ‘knowledge and truth’ available to more and more people. By the end of the World War I, this goal had been altered; the greatest use of the mails was now American business.”
The nineteenth century seed companies and nurseries used the post office service to send their garden catalogs to their customers who were scattered around the country.
The James Vick Seed Company in Rochester, New York mailed several catalogs yearly in hopes of seed orders. Like all companies at that time, the post office was an important tool for their business.
Rural Free Delivery became available in 1896 which meant that every home in America could receive mail.
That year was a boom for any company that used a catalog to sell its products.
The Vaughan Seed Company from Chicago began its catalog seed sales after winning awards for its flower displays at the Chicago Exhibition in 1893 and the passage of the Rural Free Delivery Act.
Mail delivery proved a valuable asset to their business.
The mail order business also provided the inspiration for a new warehouse for Maule’s Seeds, located in Philadelphia. In his 1889 catalog Maule wrote, “Three years ago I had especially built for me the finest warehouse in America for conducting the mail-order business. I have devoted my entire attention to furnishing the gardens of America with my seeds direct, with the aim of doing the largest mail-order business on the continent.”
In 1898 the Childs Seed Company catalog said it was not uncommon during the busy months of the business “for Mr. Childs to receive as high as eight to ten thousand letters in a single day, including hundreds of Registered letters and thousands containing Money Orders.”
The mail delivery of seeds was so successful for the seed trade because the seed companies had learned that the seed packet, originally developed as a marketing strategy, made it easy to ship seeds around the country.
The garden business was truly a modern, efficient enterprise, thanks to the post office.