If you have ever wandered through the lobby of the Queensbury Hotel in Glens Falls, NY and found yourself by the elevator, you may have noticed an unusual feature. Attached to the wall is a beautiful cast metal mailbox. It bears the raised lettering that states “Letter Box” and an embossed eagle design, beneath which is the company stamp “Cutler Mail Chute Company, Rochester, NY.”
Congratulations! You have stumbled across a unique piece of architectural and postal history.
In 1879, an architect by the name of James Gould Cutler built a grand structure in downtown Rochester, known as the Elwood Building. The building’s owner noticed that transporting outgoing mail from multiple floors was clumsy and inefficient and asked Cutler to develop a solution. By September of 1883, Cutler had obtained a patent for a mail delivery system which consisted of a vertical, glass-fronted shaft that linked all floors with a mail receptacle at the bottom. Along the chute there were hinge and lock mechanisms that allowed for stuck mail to be dislodged. The concept behind the invention was to enable letters to be dropped down the chute from any floor and collect at a central ground level point. The very first version was installed within the Elwood Building in 1884.
The Cutler mailbox and chute proved to be an enormous success and gained popularity almost overnight. It was not long before they were being installed in businesses, railroad stations and governmental buildings. It was so successful that it prompted Congress to place mail box and chute issues under the regulation of the United States Postal Authority in 1893. By 1905, with the permission of the USPS, Cutler mail systems were being installed in hotels taller than five stories and apartment buildings with fifty or more residential units. Around this time, there were about 1,600 systems in use across the country.
As the number of location sites grew, the design of the boxes and chutes evolved from simply functional to artistic reflections of period styles. No longer just utilitarian in nature, they became works of art in their own right.
Coming across one of these relics, symbols of innovation and entrepreneurship from the turn of the twentieth century, is a delight. It’s almost like finding a hidden treasure or an Easter egg, and sets me to imagining the countless letters that sailed hopefully down that chute, awaiting journeys near and far.
Contributed by Jillian Mulder.
TAGS: James Gould Cutler, Cutler Mail Chute Company, commercial mail boxes, Queensbury Hotel