Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Royal Enfield motorcycles helped deliver the mail

This 1912 "motocycle" seemed like the natural vehicle for delivery service.
Royal Enfield motorcycles delivered the mail in places around the world, especially in India (and probably still do). I was writing about the United States when I noted the motorcycle advertisements in the new National Postal Museum online exhibit about the early days of Rural Free Delivery (RFD) in the U.S.

Established in 1902, this new national delivery service brought a big sales opportunity to early motorcycle manufacturers. Thousands of the new RFD carriers would be purchasing vehicles of various sorts to service their routes. They were natural customers for motorcycles.

Just as importantly, these carriers would prove the value of motorcycles in hard, daily use on some of the worst roads in the world. They would improve the breed while showing off motorcycles to people who might never before have seen a motor vehicle.

Royal Enfields aren't among the motorcycles in advertisements on the National Postal Museum site. Other, really terrific old motorcycles do appear, including some makes you've near heard of.

Royal Enfields were delivering the mail in 1916.
I wasn't going to get away without a mention of Royal Enfield, however. Jorge Pullin, creater of Royal Enfield's Early Years Virtual Museum at his blog My Royal Enfields, sent this item, from The Motorcycle of Sept. 21, 1916. It details the success of Royal Enfield sidecar outfits in the service of the Telegraph Department of the New Zealand Post Office.

What the history of mail-by-motorcycle may have been in New Zealand, I don't know. But the National Postal Museum (one of the musems of the Smithsonian Institution) pretty clearly explains why the motorcycle didn't succeed, in the long term, at RFD service in the U.S. After 1913 they were far less useful. Can you guess why? Interesting reading.

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