In 1789, when the government took over the postal service, sending letters was an ot faith not altogether distinct from prayer. Mail was often read by carriers and clerks and Jefferson himself complained of ""the infidelities of the post office."" Today's mail systems would have staggered their imaginations (and warmed the bindings of thier Bibles). Postmaster General John Wanamaker in 1891 championed RFD as the greatest boon the nation's farmers could have: it would save them inoaloulable hours of travel to town which could be used for farming. Yet some farmers complained, quaintly, that anybody walkin' along the road could ""take the stamps off'n them,"" the letters they were sending. By 1905 there were 32,000 routes set up and the greatest item of political patronage in the government was the P.O. Dept., which was simmering like a fat goose at a barbecue. The rest of this story is colorful, lightly sentimental and some times fabulous with enterprise, mail-order firms, road-building and Congressional in-fighting.