A couple of years ago in “Please Mr. Postman,” I marked the prolonged passing of the blue mailbox, no longer needed in the age of text messaging, mobile phones, and social media. Before USPS started carting the Chicago boxes off to rust at the central office (where I saw what seemed to be thousands lined up, with nothing to do and nowhere to go), another type of mail collection method had fallen into disuse — the mail chute, or Cutler mailing system.
The first mail chute I saw and used was at 200 South Riverside Plaza in Chicago, at my first job. The chute ran down the wall across the hall from the word processing room on the 37th floor. People still used it in 1983. Walking past it, I would be startled by the sudden whoosh of an envelope falling down the chute, presumably on its way to a receiving box. Sometimes, however, someone would ambitiously stuff, say, a 9″ x 12″ envelope into the chute, which had the same effect as boxes do in trash chutes — it would “gum up the works,” as my dad might have said.
I don’t recall if the mail chute was still in use when the company relocated to 203 North LaSalle Street in 1986. A contemporary blend of glass, steel, and atrium, this building probably didn’t have anything as quaint as a mail chute.
The Flamingo, which opened in the late 1920s, has a mail chute, although it’s closed off on the floors. I have no idea where it may have ended, as it’s on the same south wall as the elevators, while the mail receiving box in the lobby is on the north wall across from the elevators. Mail is collected from the receiving box once a day, ostensibly at 10 a.m., but it was afternoon the one time I saw the carrier come in to open it.
Authorized by P.O. Dep’t.
Installed under the Cutler Patents
Note that it’s not just a mail chute and mail receiving box, but the Cutler mailing system. Product pretentiousness isn’t a contemporary invention.
Added 2/19/2017: You can see more examples in New York City at Atlas Obscura and learn about why mail chutes were discontinued.
Added 5/12/2020: “Oh, chute!” from USPS News Link and “The city’s mail shafts are chock-full of good stories” from Crain’s New York Business. The latter is worth it for:
The mother of all mail-chute jams occurred in 1986 between the lobby and the basement of the McGraw-Hill Building at 330 W. 42nd St. Workers removed cinder blocks to rescue 40,000 pieces of mail, filling 23 postal sacks.Aaron Elstein, Crain’s New York Business