Editor's note: This is the 108th in a series of articles recalling vanished Huntington landmarks.
HUNTINGTON - Today if you want to send a package somewhere you can ship it by United Parcel Service, or, if you need to get it there the next day, by Federal Express. But before UPS and FedEx there was the Railway Express Agency (REA), whose distinctive green delivery trucks were long a familiar sight on the nation's streets.
The first parcel express agency in the United States is generally considered to have been started by William Harriden, who in 1839 began regular trips between New York and Boston transporting small parcels, currency and other valuables. Other express companies followed, including Wells Fargo & Co. and the Adams Express Co., which set up shop in Huntington with the arrival of the Chesapeake & Ohio's first trains in 1871.
REA was a national monopoly established by the U.S. government in 1917. When the United States entered World War I, the federal government was concerned about the rapid, safe movement of people and goods and so took control of the nation's railroads. At the same time, the government also seized Adams, Wells Fargo and the nation's other express companies and consolidated them into REA.
In 1929, the federal government finally turned over REA to a consortium of 86 railroads that operated it for the next 40 years, cooperating to speed parcel shipments and sharing the resulting profits based on the volume of shipments each handled.
A 1956 feature article in the Huntington Advertiser profiled REA's operations in Huntington, where it had offices at 832 7th Ave. and across the avenue at the C&O passenger terminal. REA's 42 employees here handled as many as 140,000 shipments a year. But over the years more and more parcels were shipped by truck rather than rail, and REA soon struggled financially. In 1969, after several years of losses, the railroads sold REA to five of its corporate officers.
In 1972, REA closed its Huntington office, consolidating it with its Charleston location. And in 1975, REA terminated operations and filed for bankruptcy.