The Octopus Moves the Mail


Editor’s note: Our organization’s namesake, the Market Street Railway Co. (of 1893), consisted of the Market Street Cable Railway and many smaller competitors that its Southern Pacific owners had voraciously gobbled up. This and other business tactics won it the unflattering description of ‘Octopus’ in a San Francisco Chronicle article of February 19, 1895.

Six years later, Frank Norris took the term ‘Octopus’ as the title of his classic muckraking book about the Southern Pacific Railroad. An easy transference in Norris’ mind, no doubt, since the Market Street Railway Co. was controlled by the Southern Pacific.

In the early 1890s, the U.S. Post Office Department began nationwide studies to facilitate city mail delivery and processing using local rail transit systems. At the time, private wagons moved mail between San Francisco post offices. In June, 1894, former San Francisco mayor and state senator Frank McCoppin was appointed Postmaster of San Francisco and came up with a plan to transport mail between post offices in sealed pouches carried on street railway vehicles.

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