It appears that trolleys first carried closed pouch mail in the U.S. in about 1890, on the Minneapolis--St Paul intercity system, and on a small New York state line known as the Dunkirk and Fredonia Railway. A more sophisticated system was introduced in St Louis in 1891, however, and this experiment quickly evolved into the first trolley RPO service, known as the St Louis and Florissant RPO by early 1893. Other major cities followed quickly, and by 1896, POD appropriation bills were carrying a separate item for the transport of mail by electric and cable car.
Vermont never had a true trolley RPO, but at least 8 of its 10 systems* did carry closed pouch mail under government contract. The history of street railways in Vermont is straightforward (see Vermont Life, Albert C. Spaulding, "Five Cents to Everywhere: A Chronicle of Green Mountain Trolleys, Kings of Main Street", Spring 1964). Details of trolley mail in Vermont come from several sources, however, and here things are more complicated. From 1898 until 1905, the Annual Report of the PMG provides a detailed list of electric car service, state by state. Thus one can learn, for example, that three Vermont trolley lines were carrying closed pouch mail in 1898, but not the exact dates of the contracts (see Table I below). From 1906 on, however, the Annual Reports show only Vermont "trolley miles", so that while one can see when a new route was added, it is not easy to figure out what particular line it was. Also, in later years, even this information drops out, and all that the tables in the Annual Reports show are electric car service miles by "contract section".
*There were numerous amalgamations, reorganizations and name changes, making it difficult to settle on an exact number of lines (e.g., Military Post Rwy Co, operated for most of its existence as part of Burlington Traction; see the Table).
Information on electric car mail contracts (and much, much more) is also shown in the Daily Bulletins, but except for two years (1900, '01), the author has not yet faced up to the task of combing these systematically. The Official Register of the United States also lists mail contractors providing electric car service in Vermont for certain years.
Then there are the biennial reports of the Vermont Railroad Commissioners (Vermont PUC) which show income received by railroad and trolley lines under various categories, including mail contracts, from 1902 until 1916 (no detail from then on); and the First Division Railway Mail Service schedules also show the lines with mail contracts (the schedules examined by the author were for 1915, '25, '27, '31, '33 and '35).
Using these sources, then, there were, as mentioned above, three Vermont mail-carrying trolley routes by 1898; a 4th was added in 1900; a 5th in 1901 (for some strange reason, there was never a route 005, the 5th route was 303006); a 6th in 1905 or 1906; and another by 1909, amounting altogether to 40.86 miles at an annual cost to the government of $2,865.32. An 8th mail-carrying line was added sometime between 1909 and 1913. Whether all of these closed pouch routes continued until the lines themselves closed down, has not yet been established. (see Table 1).
The assistance of Frank Scheer (Railway Mail Service Library, 12 East Rosemont Ave, Alexandria, Va, 22301-2325), J. R. McFarlane, and Eleanor J. Elwert (Rutland Historical Society) is gratefully acknowledged