Send in the Marines!

The 1920s saw a surge of armed robberies of the mail. Postal Inspectors were so badly outnumbered that, on two separate occasions, the federal government sent help from the United States Marine Corps.

Send in the Marines

The 1920s were the height of the era of organized crime in America, and gangsters often targeted the mail for quick cash. Between the 1920 and 1921 alone, there were 36 armed robberies of the mail, with over $6 million worth of goods and currency stolen ($86 million today).

With less than 500 postal inspectors at this time, there was not enough manpower to guard the almost 250,000 miles of railway mail routes. Realizing the crisis at hand, Postmaster General Will H. Hays appealed to the federal government for help. President Warren G Harding responded by sending in the U.S. Marines.

Send in the Marines Cont.

The original 1921 contigent included over 50 officers and 2,000 enlisted men stationed al over the country at high-risk locations. Secretary of the Navy, Edwin Denby, himself a Marine during World War I, instructed marines on assignment to shoot to kill if attacked. He stated, "When our men go as guards over the mail, that mail must be delivered, or there must be a Marine dead at the post of duty."

The armed robberies stopped immediately, and by the end of the year, robbery of post offices, mail trains, and carriers seemed a thing of the past. The first Marine mail guard deployment ended in March 1922. For a couple of years things seemed to calm down when it came to mail robberies.

Send in the Marines Cont.

Then, between 1922 and 1926 multiple other robberies and attempted robberies occurred. In 1923, the DeAutremont brothers attempted to rob a train in southern Oregon, resulting in the death of four innocent workers. By 1926, it was clear assistance was needed again. President Calvin Coolidge promptly deployed the Marines to assist in protecting the mail. This time 1,850 men were sent to the high-risk railway terminals, and an additional 650 were kept in the reserves ready to be deployed if needed.

The robberies again stopped, and the Post Office Department started focusing on ways to arm and protect the railways without military assistance. It's not likely the Postal Service will ever need to call upon military support again, but the Postal Inspection Service looks back with pride on the short time we worked alongside the "few and proud" to make the mail and country safe.


Explore the history of the United States Postal Inspection Service.