Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Lake Geneva Mailboat - Delivering Mail Since 1916

Mail Jumper Returning to the Boat
Source. Personal Collection,
Ane Mulligan Photographer

If you’ve been reading my posts here over the years, you know I’m from a small town in southeastern Wisconsin called Lake Geneva. At the time of the great Chicago Fire, the city’s wealthy who lost homes and businesses came to Geneva Lake and purchased lakeshore property for their families. Soon, beautiful Victorian mansions and a few homes of other styles began popping up, and the area became known as The Newport of the West. A play on the fancy homes the wealthy had built on the seashore in Newport, Rhode Island.

As the lakeshore became more populated, it created a problem of how to deliver mail to the homes when many were only accessible by water or very bad roads. The obvious answer was to do so by boat. The Lake Geneva post office wasn’t the first in the country to have mailboat delivery, but it is only one of very few who still do it today. The unique feature of the Lake Geneva mailboat is the that it uses mail jumpers to deliver the mail. Young men and woman leap off the moving boat, race to a mailbox attached to the pier and sprint back to the moving boat and leap on it before it is too far away.

The Walworth servicing the Snug Harbor Estate During the Early Years
Resource: Postcard Collection of P.Meyers Public Domain

The mailboat route was officially established in 1916 and a steam yacht, called The Walworth was designated as the official mailboat. According to Lake Geneva Cruise line’s website, the mail deliveries made during both world wars the mail delivery was the recipients’ only means of contact with the outside world as many likely waited in anticipation of letters from their loved ones stationed in harm’s way.
Walworth II Loading Passengers
Wikipedia Photo

The first Walworth mailboat served for over fifty years and was retired in the 1960s and replaced by a newer Walworth II, which has since undergone a makeover and enlarged. Today the mail jumpers not only deliver the mail but also narrate descriptions of the large mansions, including their histories.

From the very beginning the jumpers were all males, but in the 1970s a female asked to be considered for the job and from then on, both men and women have jumped the mail. In the 1990s a “try out” process was instituted to test the applicants on their physical ability to deliver the mail in this unique way. You may have seen a clip on your evening news highlighting one of these tryouts. If not, here’s a link to check it out.

Growing up in Lake Geneva,  it was a given that when friends and family came from out of town a mailboat tour of the lake would appear on the agenda. I never tired of it and if girls had been allowed to jump the mail, I’d probably have wanted to try out. I was a good swimmer but I’m not sure I was athletic enough to perform the jumps and would probably have ended up in the lake more often than not. Not that it wouldn’t have been welcome on hot summer days.

Have you ever been to Lake Geneva and taken the mailboat ride? 

Lake Geneva Cruse Line-The Maiboat


  1. I’ve ridden the mailboat. That is totally a job for the agile young.

  2. I've never been to that area. It sounds like a fun boat trip to take. Thanks for sharing!