Union Station Unveils New Permanent Exhibit (Free to Visit) RPO: The Romance of Mail and Rail Presented by GEHA
Nov 19, 2020
Kansas City, Mo. - This morning at 10 a.m., Union Station and GEHA officials cut the ribbon to open a fascinating new exhibit and tribute to the American postal pioneers of the Railway Mail Service (RMS) and Railway Post Office (RPO). This new addition to Union Station’s permanent exhibition space, “Union Station Stories,” is being presented and made possible by Government Employees Health Association (GEHA), whose founding in 1937 was by a small group of local RPO employees.
The RPO exhibit – located on the main floor of the Station immediately adjacent to the current USPS office - further extends the nearly 5,000-square foot history exhibit that opened to acclaim in 2014 on the 100th Anniversary of Union Station.
“As we have for the past 106 years, Union Station is a place where not only do we live history, but we tell and celebrate the rich stories of Kansas City and its memorable past,” George Guastello, president and CEO Union Station Kansas City, said. “With the guidance of our board of directors and partnership of GEHA, we are excited to share another terrific and important story ... the one of our historic connection to the Railway Post Office. Honoring and recognizing the men and women who pioneered this essential part of connecting and uniting our vast country and populations is essential to preserving their proud and often times heroic service.”
RPO: The Romance of Rail and Mail shows that before there was Amazon Prime or even UPS, the Railway Post Office delivered the mail across 19th and 20th century America with speed, dependability and efficiency unmatched anywhere in the world. Kansas City served as a major hub in the Railway Mail Service network and helped pioneer the technology innovations that would form the foundation for today’s shipping and logistics industry.
The exhibit features the tools of the daily trade used by RPO workers, including an original electric cart (dating from 1918) used to transport mail to and from rail cars at Union Station. It also includes personal stories, vintage video of workers in action, a practice sorting case, uniform elements, route maps, examples of real mail from the era and fascinating aspects of life on the rail. As historian Fred J. Romanski notes, “the Railway Mail Service bound the nation together by rail and precipitated the growth of commerce through the speed and dependability of its service. Business and commercial activity were pushed along in an environment where fast service, reliability, and a can-do attitude prevailed.”
The RMS’s success was built on the backs of the brave men and women of the RPO. These early postal workers traveled incredible distances through remote areas, saw remarkable sights, received enviable pay, and shouldered great responsibility. They also worked in high-risk conditions, where the slightest misstep could lead to serious injury. As a result, RPO workers would frequently contribute to one another’s care – often by passing a hat to help pay medical expenses and support families of injured workers. The need for a more comprehensive, organized benefit system led to the creation of the Railway Mail Hospital Association (RMHA) in 1937.
From its headquarters in Kansas City, the RMHA expanded across the United States as the rail system and postal service worked together to connect people and cities of the young nation. The Association played a crucial role in passing coverage for all federal employees and their families under the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act of 1959. Although the RPO is no longer in operation, the organization it inspired to protect the health and welfare of its workers continues to thrive. Now known as Government Employees Health Association (GEHA), it is still based in the Kansas City area and is one of the largest health and dental benefits providers for federal employees, retired military and their families, serving over 2 million members worldwide.
“At GEHA one of our core values is rooted in the notion of caring for one another, and that’s exactly what the early RPO workers inspired in how we serve our members,” said Darren Taylor, President and CEO of GEHA. “For more than 83 years we have been doing what we do best so that the federal workers of America can do what they do best – tackling the nation’s challenges on our behalf. Union Station’s RPO exhibit is a perfect way to honor and memorialize this special group of heroes in our country’s history.”
Along with the other exhibits in "Union Station Stories," including the Shoe Shiners Exhibit and the Haverty Railroad Gallery, RPO: The Romance of Mail and Rail presents elements of technology, commerce and community. But like its fellow exhibits, its priority is to celebrate the stories of the people who devoted their lives to the mission of moving mail and connecting America’s small towns and big cities to each other and the world.
Guest to Union Station find this new exhibit on the main historic level, west side, just to the inside of the current USPS facility. Station officials also invite the public to continue sharing and sending stories of relatives who worked the RPO, as those personal accounts will keep their memories alive.
About Union Station Kansas City
Union Station Kansas City -- a 501(c)3 non-profit organization -- is a 106-year-old historical landmark and celebrated civic asset renovated and reopened to the public in 1999. Now 20 years later, Science City has earned the distinction of Kansas City’s “Favorite Attraction” and “Favorite Family-Friendly Attraction”, while Union Station as a whole is recognized as KC’s “Favorite Historic Attraction” and “Best of KC”. The organization -- dedicated to preserving its historic monument and its stories, inspiring lifelong learning and creating lasting memories for our community -- is home to Kansas City’s internationally-awarded Science City – Powered by Burns & McDonnell; the new Arvin Gottlieb Planetarium; the Regnier Extreme Screen Theatre; the popular Model Railroad Experience; City Stage featuring live theater, and a selection of unique shops and restaurants. Union Station is also home to prominent area civic organizations and businesses, and regularly hosts world-class traveling exhibitions. Awarded “Top Banquet Facilities in KC” by KC Business Journal, the facility annually hosts hundreds of community events and private celebrations of all sizes. Visit WWW.UNIONSTATION.ORG for details. Also, follow us on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, and YOUTUBE.
GEHA (Government Employees Health Association, Inc.) is a not-for-profit provider of medical and dental plans for federal employees. For more than 83 years, GEHA has been dedicated to providing products and services that help our members protect their families and access quality, affordable health care. Today, GEHA offers one of the largest national medical and dental plans serving federal employees, covering more than 2 million federal employees, retirees and their dependents. The company employs more than 1,400 people in the Kansas City metro area and is headquartered in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. GEHA is one of the largest employers in Eastern Jackson County, Missouri and is actively involved in the Kansas City community and beyond through the investment of time, resources and goodwill. For more information, visit geha.com.