James E. Stuart and the Chicago Post Office

I have blogged before about my Great Granduncle James E. Stuart who was Chief Postal Inspector for the United States Postal Service’s Chicago District from 1876 until 1920, with one break in the years. He was publicly a stickler for morality, justice, and loved being a prominent person. I was doing some research for a course I am teaching on U.S. Government Records and found an item I hadn’t seen before. I had seen something about Stuart’s Alley before but not this document. He apparently loved to catch mail thieves, those abusing the system, sending pornography via the mails, and others and had even loved to spy on his employees.

“Hand processing of mail required a substantial number of line managers to prevent theft and to ensure quality control and discipline. One method used at the Old Chicago Main Post Office Building, as well as elsewhere in the national system, was a feature known as “Stuart’s Alley.” Named for James E. Stuart, a 1920s-era Chicago postal inspector who invented the system, this post-office feature was a narrow enclosed runway that ran through a sorting or processing floor. Wide enough for only one person, Stuart’s Alley was built with sound-proofing and viewing slits that allowed an inspector to pass through a work space observing workers and work flow without being observed or heard in turn. He or she could look from side to side, or, using slits in the floor, look down on employees working below. Such a system allowed inspectors to identify theft or sloth; it also served as a psychological deterrent for workers contemplating misbehavior.”

This is from Final Landmark Recommendation adopted by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks, December 7, 2017 for the Old Chicago Main Post Office Building, 433 West Van Buren Street. It appears old James didn’t work in this building as it was built in 1921 but that leads me to believe that he was involved in the decisions and design? Someday, I need to look at more Post Office records at the National Archives.

© 2020, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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