A history of a long underappreciated institution, How the Post Office Created America examines the surprising role of the postal service in our nation’s political, social, economic, and physical development.
[Gallagher] works into her account the role of women in the Postal Service, noting that by 1892 more than 6,000 of the 67,000 postmasters were women, mostly in small communities. She introduces us to 'Stagecoach' Mary Fields, a 6-foot-tall former slave who was a crack shot and who liked to fight and smoke cigars when she wasn’t delivering mail in Montana. Gallagher delivers some fascinating anecdotes ... Gallagher [has] given us [an] engaging, well-written history of this troubled behemoth.
...[a] learned, stirring story of the institution ... Gallagher makes this case; it easy to nod in agreement with her opinion that the spirited crux of the American post is that 'if a people’s republic were to work, the people had to know what was going on,' especially in a 'sprawling, diverse, and thinly populated United States.' This is not patriotic pap, she argues. It is fundamental to participatory democracy and a sense of trust in government ... the office’s history is high with color. Gallagher doesn’t break out the Crayolas, but she knows a good story when it bites her ... Gallagher’s history is vital, disputatious, and cheering at once — like the early Republic’s newspapers that served to justify so insurgent an operation — tackling public service, private enterprise, federal power, states’ rights, the value of a national infrastructure, the fruits of bipartisanship, and the constipation of regional and political polarization.
[Gallagher's] book is the work of an enthusiast, an ode to a little-heralded but flagship government enterprise ... She reminds us, echoing the historian Richard John, that the post office forged a communications revolution just as far-reaching as the later telegraph and internet revolutions ... Gallagher glosses over such controversies to present an almost mythic vision of the past, particularly the nation’s westward expansion. She tells us of the post office’s crucial role in moving information across great distances, and in forging a national presence in Western territories. In the process, however, she simplifies the history of cultural exchange, diplomacy, violence, expropriation and warfare in a West that was, however inconveniently, already settled...she ignores generations of historians who have told a more complex story of settler colonial capitalism, and its tragic meaning for the indigenous populations ... Gallagher’s discussion of the postal system’s 'Golden Age' during the Progressive Era is more convincing.