This bus was the first Highway Post Office vehicle to operate in the United States. Its 149-mile route, which ran between Washington, D.C., and Harrisonburg, Virginia, was inaugurated on February 10, 1941. The White Motor Company of Cleveland, Ohio, designed and built the bus. The term 'Highway Post Office' is abbreviated either by the initials 'HPO' or by the more affectionate term 'HyPO'.
Highway Post Office service was initiated in response to declining railroad traffic in the early 1940s. As the American population grew, use of the highway system grew as well, meaning fewer passengers traveled by rail. This, in turn, meant fewer trains available to carry mail in several parts of the country. A second HyPO route was not established until 1946 due to the outbreak of World War II. The service grew very slowly at first, not really taking-off until the 1950s, when these brightly-colored buses became common sights on American highways.
Every time the Post Office Department established a new route, it issued a special "First Day Cover" (FDC) cancellation which it created for the philatelic mail carried that day. Several of these FDCs are also in the Postal Museum's collection.
Mail was brought onto the bus in bags that were either stored in the back or brought up to the front for processing. Clerks inside the buses sorted mail in transit just as Railway Mail Service clerks had done aboard trains. The interiors of these buses resembled Railway Post Offices--letter cases and the letter distributing table on one side and the paper distributing table and holders for mail sacks on the other. The rear section of the bus had about 640 cubic feet of space and could hold an average of 150 mail sacks.
The mail's security was very important. Because bus drivers were contractors rather than postal employees, a locked screen door separated the driver from the mail clerks. The bus windows were barred on the outside and screened on the inside to provide security.
The changing character of cities and of the mail itself eventually led to the death of the Highway Post Office. The Post Office Department then moved from decentralized mobile sorting units to large mail processing centers.
Although the bus in the Postal Museum's collection was decommissioned in the 1960s, the Highway Post Office service ran until June 30, 1974. Ironically, the Railway Mail Service that HyPOs were created to replace outlasted the bus service by three years.
After decommission, a postal worker in the Department's Bureau of Transport kept the bus from destruction by hiding it in various post office garages. It was finally discovered and sold. Fortunately, the story did not end there. In 1968 the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) acquired the bus, paid for its restoration, and donated it to the national collection.
Museum ID: 0.315456.1