Monday, April 2, 2012
Urban A. Walter, Reformer of Railway Mail Service
In the 1900 U.S. Census, Urban A. Walter was age 18, and working as a Post Office clerk. He was residing with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Adolph Walter, and several siblings in Toledo, Ohio. The 1880 U.S. Census indicates that the Adolph Walter family had resided in Fremont, Ohio at that time, before Urban's birth. The following excerpt from the book THE TRAVELING POST OFFICE, by William Jefferson Dennis (Homestead, 1916), tells of Urban A. Walter's intense campaign to improve the conditions of railway mail clerk employees. His publication "Harpoon" featured articles which told of the unsafe and unfair conditions of many railway mail clerks.
According to the book MAIL BY RAIL, by Bryant Alden Long,(Simmons-Boardman, 1951) the "Harpoon" was a red and yellow bound, 32-page magazine, which featured these words on the cover: "A Magazine That Hurts— For Postal Clerks." One issue had on the cover the memorial tombstone to three clerks who burned to death, after a tragic train wreck. Railway mail cars were usually made of wood, and quickly erupted into flames if the train wrecked. Urban A. Walter exposed the fact that lodgings aboard the train were bug-infested, and occasionally there were rats found in the water supply.
Eventually Urban A. Walter developed tuberculosis, and he moved west for health reasons. Mr. Urban A. Walter died on October 14, 1919 in Denver, Colorado. He was buried in St. Joseph's Cemetery in Fremont, Ohio. The inscription of the tombstone of Urban A. Walter reads:
Dedicated to the Memory Of
Walter A. Urban
The Father of Steel Mail Cars
Erected by Railway Postal Clerks
An exhibit from the Smithsonian Institution National Postal Museum features a video which describes conditions of the clerks who worked for the Railway Mail Service at the end of the nineteenth century and early part of the twentieth century.