Mail chute

Inactive mail chutes in the Empire State Building
A disused mail chute at Grove Arcade, Asheville, North Carolina
Sketch of mail chute system of 1910

A mail chute is a largely defunct letter collection device used in early multi-story office buildings, hotels, apartment buildings and other high rise structures. Letters were dropped from the upper stories and collected (usually at the ground level) at a central depository by the postal service. This innovation was before the time of the modern "mail room" normally associated nowadays with high rise buildings. It was for the convenience of the users of the building so they would not have to take their mail to an outside mail box or to the post office.[1]

Contents

Original design and usage

James Goold Cutler received a patent on September 11, 1883 for the mail chute.[2] The first one was installed in 1884 in the Elwood Building in Rochester, New York.[3] Cutler ultimately received thirty patents for variations of his invention. The original approved patent No. 284,951 design stated that it must "be of metal, distinctly marked U.S. Letter Box," and that the "door must open on hinges on one side, with the bottom of the door not less than 2'6" above the floor." If the building was more than two stories then the collection box was to be outfitted with a cushion to prevent injury to the mail. The mail chutes had to be accessible along its entire length so lodged mail could be removed.[3]

The first experimental "Cutler mail chute" device was successful at the Elwood Building so later it was installed in two New York City office buildings. Additional ones were then installed in railroad stations and some public buildings as a test. Eventually Cutler Mail Box produced over 1,600 such devices in buildings over the next twenty years.[2] Then the postal service allowed "Cutler mail chutes" to be placed in hotels taller than five stories. They were also installed in public apartment buildings of more than fifty apartments.[3]

The design of the mail chute was of a thin shaft going from the top floor of a building to a lobby collection box. The tenants or employees of an office building on each floor would simply put their letter into the slot on their building floor they were at. Hopefully the letter would drop into the lobby collection box, but sometimes it became lodged in the chute itself. [3] The mail chutes in large buildings often became congested. There is a story of where in the fifty-floor McGraw-Hill Building in New York City there were some 40,000 pieces of mail stuck. To dislodge the mail cinder blocks had to be removed.

It was announced on Sunday, May 9, 1909, by the New York Times, "Cutler and Other Companies Join in a $2,000,000 Corporation".[3]

Current use

Recently certain buildings like Chicago's John Hancock Center, the Chrysler Building, and the old RCA Building in New York City have shut down their chutes.[2] The reason is the increase of modern mail rooms in the building lobby with associated mail boxes available for the building tenants. There remain, however, about 360 buildings in Chicago with mail chutes, and more than 900 active chutes exist in Manhattan and the Bronx of New York City alone, as well as elsewhere. Since 1997, however, the National Fire Protection Association has banned mail chutes in all new building construction. The historic Lenox Hotel in Boston's Back Bay is one of the few known properties with an active Cutler Mail Chute system. Built in 1900, the "original boutique" boasts a Cutler U.S. Mail Chute on every guest floor at the elevator bank. The Chanin Building in New York City also has an active Cutler Mail Chute System. So although the Cutler Mail Chute Company itself currently is not active, its product remains in use in some old buildings.

A Cutler mail chute, still in service as of 2010, in the lobby of the Idaho Building in downtown Boise.

Other installations

The London Transport HQ at 55 Broadway had a system installed. The chute slot for 'London & Abroad' mail plate says 'Cutler Mailing-System Cutler-Mail-Chute-Co Rochester,NY,USA'.(As shown BBC 'Art Deco Icons: London Transport' TV programme aired Nov 09.)

See also

Notes


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