City service screen wagon

Terre Haute Carriage & Buggy Companycirca 1904

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Washington, DC, United States

In 1904 the Department published plans for three sizes of screen wagons. Model No. 1 carried 5,000 pounds and required two horses. Model No. 2 carried 2,500 pounds and also required two horses. Finally, model No. 3 had a 1,200-pound capacity and could be used with either one or two horses.

This fully restored screen wagon is Model No. 2. As outlined by postal directives, the wagon follows a specific color scheme. The screen frames are painted red, as are the running gear and wheels. The canvas roof and panels that contain lettering are white. Side curtains are held in place by harness straps when rolled up. The roof protrudes over the driver's seat and its black leather cushion to protect it from the elements.

This restored screen wagon was used to transport mail between Winchester, Virginia, Martinsburg, West Virginia, and Hagerstown, Maryland. It was built by the Terre Haute Carriage & Buggy Company, which secured the exclusive contract to build screen wagons from the Post Office Department in 1897.

As mail volume continued to grow in the late nineteenth century, the Post Office Department began using mail wagons to carry pouches and sacks full of mail between railway stations, post offices, and occasionally between towns. The Department contracted with companies that provided their own wagons for carrying the mail. Mail security became an issue with these wagons, most of which used canvas covers over the side that could easily be ripped by potential thieves.

To provide greater security, the Department began using wire-caged mail wagons in the late 1880s. While the mail was being moved, a lock secured the back doors of each mail wagon. Because of this design, the wagons were quickly nicknamed 'screen wagons'. Postmasters found the screen wagons easier to maintain and cheaper to operate. Another benefit to postmasters was the wagon’s tight turning radius. The front wheels could turn completely under the body, allowing the vehicles to easily pivot into tight loading docks.

Museum ID: 1987.0266.1


  • Title: City service screen wagon
  • Creator: Terre Haute Carriage & Buggy Company
  • Date Created: circa 1904
  • Physical Dimensions: 274 x 183 x 274 cm
  • Subject Keywords: wagon
  • External Link: Screen Wagon
  • Medium: wood; metal (iron); leather; canvas

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