Typical canvas mail satchel
Typical canvas mail satchel

A mail satchel is a type of mail bag that a letter carrier uses over-the-shoulder for assisting the delivery of personal mail on a designated route.[1]

Etymology and word origins


Commonly referred to as "satchels", letter carriers used leather-over-the shoulder type mail bags on their delivery and collection rounds. This form of satchel was most popular in city delivery service and city collection service. It has been used from about the 1860s in the United States and from the late 19th century in other countries worldwide. The city collector's satchels have two handles off the top of the leather bag itself.[7][8] Formerly made of leather, such satchels were later made in lighter, but less durable, canvas, today a variety of materials may be encountered including hard wearing synthetics.

Postal service by letter carriers

In August 1971, the United States Postal Service declared that when the existing stock of leather satchels was depleted, they would be replaced with canvas. The cited reason was the high price of "scarce" leather. The new canvas satchels also had a weight advantage, about 2 pounds, compared to the old leather mail bag's 4 pounds. The disadvantage of the new canvas satchels was durability, lasting about eighteen months before they had to be replaced, compared to a six-year lifespan for the old leather satchel.[9]

Beginning in 1978, the new U.S. canvas style satchel mailbag bore an escutcheon on the middle outward facing panel: the U.S. Postal service's left-facing eagle logo starting in 1978. In 1986, the left-facing eagle logo was changed to a right-facing eagle logo. The old style of a left-facing eagle logo was still in use through 1989. In August, 1996, the satchel was again modified: the old style logo of a normal winged eagle was replaced with a futuristic "sonic eagle" logo. Reflective glow in the dark stripes added in December 1996.[9]

In October 1997, a new double satchel was added to the tools used by U.S. letter carriers. Its advantage was that it would more equal weight distribution to prevent shoulder, back and neck strain. Its disadvantage was that it was a hindrance to defense from charging dogs. The preference to many letter carriers is the traditional single satchel where they are free to fend off dogs (e.g. pepper spray usage).[9]

As one might expect, the form and structure of mail satchels has implications for fatigue and industrial injuries to mail carriers.[10]

Satchel hand carts, mail trolleys, mail bikes, and Segways

A U.S. "satchel cart" (caddy cart, container cart),[A][B][C] United Kingdom "mail trolley" (postman's cart) or the European / Asian "mail bike" is an accessory tool for letter carriers of cities to assist their normal everyday over-the-shoulder heavy mail satchel. This type of accessory is used to cut down on return trips to the postal vehicle to collect or drop off mail. In Britain, mail trolleys are controversial, and viewed as a threat by some to the viability of bicycles, which use a form of satchel bag.[D] A "mail trolley" is used in the United Kingdom in addition to bikes for the "postmen".[11] [E] It is also an employee safety feature because the cart is carrying the load, which could be up to 70 pounds, where a hand over-the-shoulder mail satchel for letter carriers carries up to 35 pounds of mail.[12][13]

Postmasters authorize the use of satchel carts on certain the routes that would justify its use. Satchel carts carry two "mail satchels" that each would carry 35 pounds. Postmasters consider the following factors in assigning satchel carts:

  • Relieves the letter carriers from carrying heavy loads of mail all the time (safety feature).
  • Letter carriers with physical impairments get first priority.
  • If the satchel cart is a detriment and slows down the letter carrier on his route, then the push cart is taken away from that letter carrier and given to another or put in storage.
  • When a letter carrier uses a push cart, the normal 35-pound mail load limit does not apply. The two satchels on the cart are filled to capacity on each use, which could be as much as twice the normal 35-pound over-the-shoulder satchel mail load limit.
  • Due to the greater carrying capacity of the 4 wheeled push cart the relay mail pick-up points are adjusted to be less often.[14]

The typical "satchel cart" used by United States Postal Service is a four-wheeled cart with its mailbags that has a collapsible handle and front wheel brakes. It was used by the letter carriers in the late twentieth century and into the twenty-first century.[15]

The future for mail carrying in some parts of the world may be represented by the Indian Postal Service's attempt to develop and deploy electric cargo tricycles. It has been suggested as a way to replace bicycles in India with vehicles that will enable carriers to travel farther and carry more at a lower cost. The "Soleckshaw" is "specifically suitable as a light delivery vehicle, for delivery of post, parcels and other postal services both in urban and rural areas".[16][17]

It has been observed that the general trend in mail deliveries is a decrease in letter volume and an increase in the number and size of packages; bulk and weight increased so mail delivery methods had to be changed as a result. In one intracampus mail system, it was found that the use of Segways decreased emissions. "Increasingly heavier trays were leading to workplace accidents, exhaustion and dissatisfaction." Segway PTs fitted with custom mail bags, a derivative of the over-the-shoulder personal mail satchels, were seen as a cure for the postmen for many of these problems.[18]

Letter carriers in the United Kingdom are instructed to use mail "trolleys" to prevent injuries from heavy shoulder satchels, and to not use bicycles.[11]

Below is a gallery of pictures showing various worldwide mail push carts, mail trolleys, mail bikes, and mail Segways:

See also



  1. ^ "container cart" = A small four-wheeled cart used by city carriers to deliver mail on their routes. "USPS Postal terms". United States Postal Service. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  2. ^ "satchel cart" = A small, portable handcart used by city carriers to transport satchels of mail on their routes. "Postal Terms". United States Postal Service. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  3. ^ "Glossary of Postal Terms, Publication 32" (pdf). United States Postal Service. May 1997. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  4. ^ "It is nonsense to suggest that we are phasing out the bike. We have 30,000 nationally and the bicycle is a key part of our equipment and will remain so." Peterkin, Tom (June 16, 2008). "Posties told to ditch bikes for trolleys". The Telegraph. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  5. ^ Meanwhile, hundreds of surplus British postal bikes are recycled to African villages to provide basic transportation. "Bikes get African posting.(Royal Mail's Bicycle Recycle project)". Geographical. HighBeam Research. June 1, 2000. Archived from the original on September 24, 2015. Retrieved October 7, 2012.


  1. ^ Marsh, Allison (March 2006). "Prototype Mail Pouch". Former Object of the Month. National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved August 15, 2012.
  2. ^ mail (n.1)
  3. ^ "Sack". Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  4. ^ "sac". Online Language Dictionaries. Retrieved October 13, 2012.
  5. ^ mail pouch definition
  6. ^ mailbag definition
  7. ^ Heidelbaugh, Lynn (April 29, 2006). "Satchel for letter carriers". National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  8. ^ "Mailbag definitions". Arago Researcher Program Style Guide for Researchers and Editors. Archived from the original on December 9, 2012. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  9. ^ a b c Historian, United States Postal Service (June 2002). "Letter Carriers' Satchels" (PDF). United States Postal Service. Retrieved September 5, 2012.
  10. ^ Bloswick, D. S.; Gerber, A.; Sebesta, D.; Johnson, S.; Mecham, W. (June 1994). "Effect of mailbag design on musculoskeletal fatigue and metabolic load". Human Factors. 36 (2): 210–8. PMID 8070787.
  11. ^ a b Peterkin, Tom (June 16, 2008). "Posties told to ditch bikes for trolleys". The Telegraph. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  12. ^ "Post Office Carrier Information". National Association of Letter Carriers. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  13. ^ "Satchel Cart Delivery" (pdf). National Association of Letter Carriers. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  14. ^ "Update notice, Handbook M-39, Management of Delivery Services" (pdf). Post Office Handbook. United States Postal Service. April 4, 2002. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  15. ^ Pope, Nancy A. (May 1, 2006). "Satchel delivery cart". National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved August 16, 2012.
  16. ^ "'Sunny' ride for postal workers". The Telegraph Calcutta, India. New Delhi. July 9, 2010. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  17. ^ Khan, Faisal (January 18, 2011). "Kinetic Launches Postal Soleckshaw". Kinetic. Retrieved September 23, 2012.
  18. ^ "Segway PTs deliver mail faster at University of Canterbury: Case Study" (pdf). New Zealand. Retrieved September 27, 2012.

Further reading