Who Invented The Mailbox?


Whoever invented the mailbox did the world a great good. A mailbox is a physical box where public members can place outgoing mail for collection by postal service personnel in a specific country. A “post box” can also refer to a private letter box used to receive incoming mail in some contexts. Meanwhile, many of the things we take for granted today were invented by black inventors; one of such is the mailbox.

In the 18th century, people traveled kilometers away to mail a letter. Imagine the horror of traveling miles and miles to drop off and pick up a letter. On October 27, 1891, Philip B. Downing invented the mailbox with four legs to ease this mystery. As he called it, the “street letterbox” became the precursor to mailboxes today.

Who is Philip B. Downing?

Philip B. Downing, according to Wikipedia, was born on March 22, 1857, in Providence, Rhode Island. Downing was born into a well-known and influential family. George T Downing, Phillip’s father, was a prominent abolitionist and businessman.

As a result of his imaginative thinking, his first patent was for streetcar and train switches innovation. This innovation allowed the brakeman to open or close the switch from the car’s platform. This patent paved the way for the modern light switch. 

On October 27, 1891, Downing registered a patent that forever altered the mail system. That patent was for a street mailbox, which is the type of box you see all across the country where you can drop off a letter at any time. The design is compact convenient, and It eliminated the need to visit a post office to mail a letter. It had a function that protected the mail from severe weather like rain and snow and a safety device that kept the mail safe until collected by postal staff.

Downing’s invention allows for drop-off near one’s home and easy pick-up by a letter carrier. It’s also possible that he holds the patent for the mailbox often utilized in rural areas.

Other Inventions of Philip B. Downing

The United States Patent Office granted Downing’s application for valuable Improvements on Street-Railway Switches on June 17, 1890. Twenty-five years after the mailbox, Philip registered a patent for an envelope moistener as well. The invention uses a roller and an attached water tank to moisten envelopes. The year after, Philip got another successful application for his accessible desktop notepad innovation.

When Did Philip B. Downing Die?

One of the most influential African-American inventors, Philip Downing, died on June 8, 1934. 


When Did Mailboxes Become a Necessity in America?

When individuals began receiving Free City Delivery in 1863, mailboxes became necessary. People’s mail was hand-delivered to their doorsteps without charge by letter carriers. Although the home mailbox was already functional at the time, it wasn’t until 1923 that each residence was required to have a mailbox or, at the very least, a letter slot.

Other People Who Invented A Mailbox

Albert Potts patented the first letterbox (where the public might drop their letters) sanctioned by the United States Postal Service on March 9, 1858. His design included lampposts with a letterbox, which his firm produced. His boxes’ spacing was relatively small, and there was a need for frequent emptying. 

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However, it was not the first in history; that honor belongs to Renouard De Valayer. In 1653, he established a short-lived postal system in Paris, employing collection boxes on street corners.

George E. Becket of Providence, Rhode Island, also issued a patent in 1892 for his “house-door letterbox,” an improved mailbox permanently fixed on a house’s front door.


Mailboxes have since gone through a variety of design changes. Around the 21st century, the USPS approved designs for locking mailboxes due to the drastic increase in crime. The USPS has also introduced new design requirements for installing mailboxes, including placing them 6 to 8 inches back from the curb. 

With the evolution of new technology, some centralized mailbox systems have a notification system that alerts a recipient when a new package is delivered. Thanks to Philip Downing, dispatching and receiving mail is convenient and an everyday occurrence, and we do not have to worry about the safety of our letters and parcels.

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