BRIGGS, JOSEPH W. (5 July 1813-23 Feb. 1872) instituted free home mail delivery in Cleveland and was later appointed to a postal job in Washington to establish this system throughout the U.S. Born in Claremont, N.Y., and raised by his uncle, Geo. Nixon Briggs, governor of Mass., Briggs, in the early 1860s, was appointed clerk and assistant to the postmaster of Cleveland's first and only post office, on PUBLIC SQUARE. At this time, mail was handed out on request at windows and was not delivered to specific addresses unless by paid private carriers. Briggs claimed he thought of free delivery during the winter of 1862-63 while watching how women, coming for letters from loved soldiers, were exposed to the cold while waiting in slow-moving lines. Briggs's plan was approved by the postmaster, EDWIN COWLES, publisher of the CLEVELAND LEADER, who believed his paper's circulation might also benefit from free delivery. The U.S. postmaster granted Briggs permission to implement his system in Cleveland. Initially, the mail was sorted and taken to grocery stores throughout the city, where it was distributed; later it was delivered to specific addresses. Briggs's system caught the attention of Congress, which on 3 Mar. 1863 passed a bill authorizing free mail delivery in cities throughout the country. Briggs was appointed special agent to implement the new system and was later made national superintendent, responsible for organizing free mail delivery in 52 cities throughout the U.S. Before he died, Briggs helped design the first mailman's uniform.

Briggs married Harmony Gilmore in 1836. They had nine children: Mary, Nancy, Rufus, Laura, Alfred, Isabella, Emma, Leonard, and Kate. He died in Cleveland and was buried in WOODLAND CEMETERY. A bronze plaque in the lobby of the Cleveland Federal Bldg. honors his achievements.

Black, white and red text reading Western Reserve Historical Society

View finding aid for the Joseph William Briggs Papers. WRHS.

View finding aid for the Joseph William Briggs Family Papers. WRHS.

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