Why outside mailboxes in America?

This thread prompts me to ask… why do houses in America (stereotypically, at least) have a freestanding mailbox outside, rather than a letterbox in the front door? Is it simply because gardens tend to be bigger, so the mailman would have much further to walk, or is there some deeper reason? Personally I think it would bug me having to go outside to fetch my mail.

Are outside mailboxes the norm everywhere in America, or do any areas have front door letterboxes?

That’s a fine question.

When I was a boy in Los Angeles every home in my area had either a slot in the door for mail (so the mail ended up inside the house on the floor) or a small box right next to the door.

But somewhere along the way I noticed that everyplace was going to curbside mailboxes.

I don’t know what inspired that but I can’t imagine it’s anything but speed and efficiency.

Probably the same here in Australia - it’s 30 metres from the footpath to my door.

I’d doubt any normal free standing house would have a door mail slot here in Canberra.

Curbside mailboxes make it easy for the mailman to deliver the mail from his truck without getting out. That’s also why they tend to be clustered together.

My mom lives way up in the boonies and she and all her neighbors have a row of “curbside” mailboxes off the side of the road near the intersection that leads to their houses. So she has to walk about a quarter mile there and back to get her mail.

I think the main reason is that people in America (especially outside of the cities) tend to live in a larger area than in many other countries. Thus, in my area the mail carrier might cover an area that is ten/ten or a hundred square miles per day. Since this is done by automobile it is much quicker for them to be able to put your mail in the box without exiting their vehicle. Even in the cities where they have foot delivery it is quicker to put the mail into the box (on the porch in most cases) than place it through a slot in the door (perhaps only a few seconds at each house, but it adds up).

In origin, it derives from two things:

Home delivery was done from 3rd class and higher post offices to the urbanized area, by mail carriers, on foot, to the appropriate receptacle at the house itself. We and my paternal grandparents had wall-hung mailboxes on (non-enclosed) porches – maybe 15" tall by 7" wide by an inch deep, with an overhanging flap that lifted for the mail to be inserted. Several neighbors had horizontal slits in the door with flaps, through which mail was inserted. My maternal grandparents and one neighbor had a vertical slit, with flap, adjacent to the door.

Rural free delivery, on the other hand, brought mail to those big roadside mailboxes that everyone can visualize, by vehicle, with no delivery-to-house included in the service, for people who lived “out on the farm” in places out of town – you walked to the road to get your mail. This is what we have now, being in a post-office-less hamlet five miles out from the town where the post office servicing us is located.

With suburban and exurban growth, the two concepts began to be less distinct, but that’s the basics of the distinction.

I’ve lived in a neighborhood with a free-standing mailbox by the curb and in a neighborhood with a wall-mounted mailbox right next to the door. Both in the same city. For whatever reason, the wall-mounted mailboxes were in the older neighborhood (say built 1960s) while the free-standing mailboxes were in the younger neighborhood (say built 1970s).

This is also why most Postal vehicles tend to have right-hand drive.

When I was a kid in San Diego the mail slot was in the front door. In Lancaster, CA the mailboxes stood in front of the houses; but there was a sidewalk between the street and the mailboxes, so the mail carrier walked his or her route. In L.A. I lived in an apartment, so all of the mailboxes were just inside of the gate. Here in the PNW I have a free-standing box like the one in Lancaster. The mail carrier uses a RHD car so that he or she never has to get out. (If a signature is required, he leaves a notice that I have to pick the letter up at the Post Office – even if I’m home. The lazy bastard!)

Properly, if it’s Express Mail (not Priority) or Registered/Certified, the things you would normally need to sign for, they are paying extra for the privilege of having him bring it to your door and having you sign for it. A word to the Postmaster that “I was home on the 18th, and received this notice to come in and sign for and pick up a certified letter in my mailbox; shouldn’t he have tried to get a signature then?” should suffice.

Most places I’ve lived have a mix of on-the-house and curbside service. In general, neighborhoods built in the 1950s and older tend to have on-the-house boxes. Newer neighborhoods have the curbside boxes.

My last house had the mailbox on the house, and it was really nice and convenient. We even talked to the mailman sometimes when he came by. Now we live in a newer house, and it’s a hike out to the mailbox - our driveway is um, lessee… long. It takes at least 2-3 minutes to walk out to to mailbox. We only see our mailman when she drops off boxes that are too big to fit in the box, which isn’t too often. I much prefered the on-the-house box, but in this neighborhood - homes set far back from the busy road and no sidewalks - it would be next to impossible.

I think that last time this subject was raised the fact came to light that only the US Postal Service are allowed to leave anything in the outside mail box. Any other item , such as an advertising flyer , is usually stuck on the front door or just left lying around near the front of the house. I said then that if you are away for a few days , all this junk lying around is a perfect invitation for Bugler Bill to make a house call. At least with a front door slot , everything goes in there and there is no indication that you have not been home for a few days.

And what does Bugler Bill do? Play the last post?

Damn spell-check . Of course I meant Burglar Bill . :smack:

My city is the same. On my street, the houses were all built between 1830 and 1930-- my house being the “baby” of the lot. All of them have the mailboxes on the wall by the door, as a slit in the door itself, or, in my case, there’s actually a mailslot built into the wall. (My mail falls through the wall into a metal box within the wall, accessable from the inside by a little wooden door in my dining room.)

I’ve never lived in a house that had its mailbox on the street. They were all right outside the door. Even in all the apartments I lived in, the mailboxes were inside the lobby vestibule - never in a bank by the street or parking lot.

My mailbox experiences with the three houses I’ve owned:

House 1 - Omaha, NE; built in 1962, mailbox right outside the front door, mailman walked the route

House 2 - Maine; built in 1988, single mailbox on street, mailman drove the route

House 3 - Omaha, NE; built in 1998, cluster of 4 mailboxes across the street, mailman drives the route

I’m sure it’s to save the mail carrier a trip up the driveway. Packages are still delivered to our porch, but a couple days ago, we got a “Sorry we missed you” card in the box saying to come to pick up a package at the Post Office, despite the fact that we were home. Considering the state of our driveway, I don’t blame him a bit. It’d suck to be stayed from one’s appointed rounds because our landlord prefers nuclear-powered* snow removal.

  • The Sun is a giant thermonuclear reactor, don’ cha know.

We don’t even get mail delivery. Where I live, you have to go to the post office to get your mail.

Anybody else?

I think it’s most likely a combination of the density of the housing and the presence or lack of sidewalks.

  1. Postal carriers don’t like to walk on the street.

  2. Postal carriers don’t like to cut through yards, especially if the yards are fenced, there are dogs, or the ground is muddy/snowy, etc.

In an older area with sidewalks and houses close together, it’s more likely the carrier will deliver the mail to the front door. In a newer area (larger yards, no sidewalks) it’s more likely the letterboxes will be at the end of the driveway.

For the record, I live in a 45 yerar old house with an actual letter slit in the wall. Our postal carrier still “walks” his route. Everything is fine except for the oversize pieces, which generally get left between the storm door and the front door.

I delivered mail summers during college as a floater, filling in for anyone anywhere. I encountered every type of mailbox imaginable, from a slot in the front door, to large double-doored shelves in the wall once intended for the delivery of milk, to outside mailboxes, to drive-up curbside mailboxes, to apartment house multibox arrangements and more.

The absolute worst type of receptacle were the slots in the door. Most homes here have an outside screen door or storm door so that you had to open one door and prop it open to get to the slot on the inside door. And only standard small (what we call #10) envelopes would fit through those slots. Oversized mail, catalogs, magazines, books, parcels, and the million and one other things that come in the mail these days either got stuck or had to be left carefully propped up against the inside door, where they kept threatening to fall over while you tried - with a fifty pound mailbag unbalancing you - to keep them upright while you closed the outside door. And then they were invisible to the people on the inside. Unless they were a big parcel, in which case the outside door bulged open and was a dead giveaway that something was there.

Those mail slots date from the days when almost all mail was standard envelope or postcard size. Those days are long, long gone. If you don’t have a box big enough to handle everything but large parcels you’re living in the wrong century.