Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Consider the Cutler Mail Chute

I like old buildings. I like brass. And, while I would never actually put a piece of mail down one, I have always been drawn to the elegant brass mail chutes you find in old buildings.  Not that I give much thought to them between the times I happen to notice one when I'm waiting for the elevator in an old building...still.

But I was waiting for an elevator in an old building, and I made note of the manufacturer's name on mail chute.

It was a Cutler, produced by the Cutler Mail Chute Company of Rochester, NY.

Given that I am photography-challenged, I was not able to take a shot of the Cutler I was considering.  I did find a nifty photo at the Postal Museum of a Cutler Mail Box, which is where all the bills, billets-doux, offer letters, checks, dear-johns, Valentines, wish-you-were-heres, cease and desists, flyers end up when you drop them down a Cutler Mail Chute.

If you want to see a shoot of a chute for yourself, Douglas Bowman has a nice one here.

Consider the Cutler Mail Chute.

For a brief period - from the advent of the skyscraper until the invention of the mail room - it was the height of distribution technology (admittedly, that's one-way distribution). Sure, things could get clogged in it - that's why there's so much glass in the chute.  But mostly it worked.

James Cutler may have patented it, but he had his rivals, including the Automatic Mail Delivery Company of New York City. Just what was so automatic about mail that was only delivered to the collection receptacle, and not to the mail's addressee, I don't quite get. Nonetheless, there was something there, and in 1909, the Cutler Manufacturing Company merged with Automatic. As The New York Times reported, "This merges practically all the mail chute companies in the market."

Many Cutlers are still in use. According to Wikipedia - so it must be right, right? I mean, who would lie about the existence of a mail chute - there are 360 in Chicago, and 900 in New York. Alas, the Chrysler Building, the apple of my Big Apple eye, has closed down their mail chute. And in 1997, the National Fire Protection Association - those spoilsports! - banned their use in new construction. Imagine: the mail chute banned from Boston if not in Boston (actually, Quincy, Massachusetts).

Cutler kept going until a decade or so back, when it was acquired by mailbox maker Florence Manufacturing Company of Manhattan, Kansas - not to be confused with Manhattan, NY. Florence, in turn, was acquired by Gibraltar Industries of Buffalo, NY, which means that the Cutler has almost but not quite returned home to Rochester, NY.

I just like the idea of the mail chute: odd, old-fashioned, practical in its own way - no need to go down to the lobby to send your missive on its way. Of course, in its own way it is also wildly impractical - fine for the legal envelope, but what about big manilas? what about padded mailers? what about bulk?

To the short list of archaic items I would like to own, I will add a beautiful Cutler Mail Box. Once I get one, I will place it next to the horned Victrola, which I do not yet possess, but is the first thing on my archaic items list.

On the Victrola, I will crank out John McCormack's Long Way to Tipperary and other tunes of yesteryear.

As for the Cutler Mail Box, I may figure out how to store things in it - storage for us urban folks always being at a premium. Mostly, I think I will just sit there, John McCormack warbling in the background, and consider it.


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Maureen Rogers said...

Well, usually I delete spam, but I love .that "...whom will provide..." Maybe chataboutit should have a all-things-grammar show!

Car Reviews said...

I have read this post and found it very interesting.

Maureen Rogers said...

Dear Car Reviews - No, you haven't; no, you didn't. So, I delighted your second comment - the one with the link to your site.

What's with the Cutler Mail Chute? Is it some kind of a spam magnet?

valerie said...

you 'delighted' their second comment? I'll bet you did.

Anonymous said...

And, while I would never actually put a piece of mail down one

Why not? I use the mail chute at work all the time.

Packworm said...

I have a cutler mail chute collection box for sale, if you are interested.

Keith said...

Hi - I found one in the Wisconsin State Capitol building in madison. Forgive the bad photo, this was located in a very dim hallway. I doubt its used any longer but who knows?

Manuel de Sa said...

I was the "Mailchute man" in New York City from 1981 to the slow but sure extinsion in the late 1990's.
NFPA Did not outlaw the mail chutes, they outlaw openings of continuos shafts connecting floors wiithout a fire damper between floors.
Mailchute manufacturers offer this gadget, but most chutes were sold without them.
In my active chute years, I represented Cutler, Capitol, US Chutes, Valiant and others.
I restored chutes and collection boxes from coast to coast.
I purchased complete chutes removed from buildings to be turn down, still have many parts for chutes made from 1880's to the 1990's.
By the way, the mailchutes were designed to handle single 4"x9" envelopes, the clogage was caused by large envelopes folded to fit into the slot.
Fixing chutes, I found cloged envelopes stuck in the chute for more than 40 years, cleaning and servicing the collection boxes, I found 2 diamond rings, a $100.00 bill, lots of change, broken glass, paper and foam cups,parking tickets and much more.
Manuel de Sa'

Manuel de Sa said...

I am the "Mailchute man"
I represented from 1981 to its slow extincion in the late 1990's: Cutler, Capitol, US Chutes, Valiant and more.
Still after all this time, I get requests from coast to coast to restore old mailchutes and collection boxes.
The problem with the chutes was: Mailchutes were designed for single 4"x 8" envelopes, cloogage was caused by large envelopes folded to fit in the slot.
Fixing and servicing the chutes, I found 40 years old mail, cleanning the collection boxes I found 2 diamond rings, a $100.00 bill, lots of change, paper and foam cups and a lot more.
Manuel de Sa'

Maureen Rogers said...

Manual - Thanks for stopping by and telling your wonderful story!

Diane Schirf said...

Hi, there's a Cutler mail chute in my building, but it's marked as from Rochester, Minnesota (the lesser-known Rochester, perhaps).

Diane Schirf said...

I take that back — I just looked again, and it is NY. Mea culpa.

Maureen Rogers said...

Diane - That's interesting. I just checked to make sure I hadn't gotten my Rochesters mixed up, but the Cutler Mail Chute was invented and (at least originally) produced in Rochester, NY. Indeed, the inventor was, at one time, the mayor of Rochester.

Rochester, MN, may be lesser known, but it's still pretty famous, given the Mayo Clinic!

Anonymous said...

I own two Cutler bronze mail chute sections. One is a full box complete with key. The other is just a front section with glass and the Cutler logo above the flip open chute. Great for wall hangers. They are a piece of postal history.

Maureen Rogers said...

I'm jealous - I think the Cutlers are incredibly cool!

Anonymous said...

Please help us restore our Cutler mail chute in our midtown Manhattan building! I am trying to find someone who can examine, service and perhaps help us repurpose ours in a 22 story building!
Please call me at 646-770-1773 if you can help. Perhaps Manuel still reads this?