How are Postmaster appointments decided?

I'm looking for information on how Postmaster appointments were made. Were these political appointments?  I noted my Great Grand father was appointed Postmaster of Stanley, IN and then the next year his brother-in-law was appointed.   Both were Civil War vets in the same unit.

  • Hi Jeff,

    Thank you for posting on History Hub.

    United States Postal Service has a Freedom of Information Act webpage. Please contact them with your question.

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    Best Wishes

    Alice Lane

    Research Volunteer

  • Dear Mr. Johns,


    Thank you for posting your quest on History Hub!

    According to the United States Postal Service, from 1836 to 1971, postmasters at the larger Post Offices were appointed by the President, by and with the consent of the Senate. Postmasters earning less than $1,000 per year were appointed by the Postmaster General, generally upon the advice of the local congressman or townspeople. Regulations required that postmasters execute a valid bond and take an oath of office. Minors were ineligible, and U.S. citizenship was required for appointment to all but the smallest Post Offices. Prior to 1971, it was also required that postmasters live in the delivery area of their Post Office. Since 1971, postmasters have been selected through the merit system.


    The exact reasons and methods that a person was nominated for postmaster probably varied somewhat over time and from place to place. Political patronage was usually involved. We searched online and located a copy of a National Genealogical Society Magazine article by National Archives staff member, Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, that provides more information on the appointment and duties of a 19th century postmaster as well as some of the key National Archives records that document these.  We also located the article “Postmasters once core of vast patronage system” by the Archivist/Librarian of the McLean County Museum of History describes the “spoils system” as well as some of the reforms introduced in the 20th century to try to curtail it. In addition, we located the Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 90th Congress, First Session Volume 113, Part 2, page 1773 which provides a brief historical background on patronage in the postal system.


    Plus, we searched the National Archives Catalog using the terms “applications,” “nominations,” and “appointments” in the Records of the Post Office Department (Record Group 28) and located a number of results with each keyword. For more information about these and other Post Office records, contact National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (RDT1) via email at


    Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and pursuant to guidance received from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), NARA has adjusted its normal operations to balance the need of completing its mission-critical work while also adhering to the recommended social distancing for the safety of NARA staff. As a result of this re-prioritization of activities, you may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgement as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDT1. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience.


    Lastly, the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress has custody of the papers of twenty-three presidents from George Washington to Calvin Coolidge. Some of these are available in whole or in part online.  Please contact the Library of Congress using their Ask A Librarian Service to request information about the papers of the relevant president or presidents relating to nominations and appointments.


    You may wish to contact the Historian of the United States Postal Service and the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum.


    We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your family research!