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Outsource Your Wait In Line… Since 1850s Gold Rush Era

Paying for someone to wait in line is not a new phenomenon. While reading about Gold Rush San Francisco circa 1850s, we discovered that people would wait in line for many hours to receive their letters and mail once the bi-monthly steamers came up from Panama. Once the ship was in port, people crowded outside the post office hours before it opened, blocking the two streets that led to the building. The men would smoke, chew tobacco, and read books and newspapers while they waited. Some enterprising souls sold their spot in line for ten or fifteen dollars (over $500 in today’s money), not expecting any letters of their own.

A man’s place in the line was his individual property, more or less valuable according to his distance from the window, and, like any other piece of property, it was bought and sold, and converted into cash. Those who had plenty of dollars to spare, but could not afford much time, could buy out someone who had already spent several hours in keeping his place. Ten or fifteen dollars were frequently paid for a good position, and some men went there early, and waited patiently, without any expectation of getting letters, but for the chance of turning their acquired advantage into cash.

(From Three Years in California by J. D. Borthwick, published 1857)


Post Office, Building, San Francisco
Image published by LELAND & McCOMBE. Engraved expressly for the Publishers by Anthony & Baker. [1854] Courtesy of sfmuseum.org

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