Famous Box Design

US Tunnel Mailbox

In a way, Roy Joroleman’s Tunnel Mailbox originated as a model to standardize US mail delivery on rural routes. When free, rural delivery of US mail began in 1896, mail boxes were homemade, usually from some sort of discarded container, oil cans, for example, often with remains of its original contents, slapped onto a pole and set along the road.

To resolve this situation, in 1901 the US Postal Service created a commisiion for a standardized mailbox and reviewed sixty-three designs submitted by prospective manufacturers. The guidelines established that the mailboxes should be made of sheet steel, preferably galvanized, and should have a durable sign that would signal the presence of mail. The committee initially approved fourteen of the submitted designs. In 1915 another committee was set to review new and existing designs in order to update and improve the service.

The committee agreed that mailboxes needed further standardization and turned to postal engineer Roy Joroleman, whose proposal for a tunnel-shaped mailbox was to become the standard. The design was approved by the postmaster general in 1915 and was not allowed to be patented in order to encourage competition between manufacturers. In 1928 a larger version was approved, the No.2 Size Box, which could also accommodate parcels. Both designs have remained in production ever since.

What makes the design so appealing is its sense of effortless simplicity. In a way it is not very different from its predecessors, a mutated can that has now become the perfect mailbox. It grew in depth to accommodate both letters and newspapers, yet still remained a ‘can’, although one with a flattened side that allowed it to be securely fixed to a pole, and a hinged end to open and close. It retained its fabrication ethos, both because it is a structurally efficient shape and because there was already a large manufacturing industry that could easily manufacture it at competitive prices.

And finally it grew its trademark flag, which signalles incoming or outgoing mail. Today, in the digital world, the Tunnel Mailbox has been appropriated as the symbol for email. Its iconic status is assured.

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