The Harley-Davidson motorcycle company manufactured a three-wheeled motorcyle known as the Servi-Car from 1932 to 1973. The Servi-Car had one wheel in the front and two wheels in the back. A box could be positioned between the two back wheels to carry cargo. Harley envisioned the Servi-Car for use for garages and service stations as a way to get mechanics quickly to automobile customers. But for several years the United States Postal Service used Servi-Cars to deliver mail.
Motorcycles and Mail
Businesses began using motorcycles equipped with sidecars for deliveries in the second decade of the 20th century. The sidecar could hold cargo, while the motorcycle could maneuver in tight spaces and use less gas than a car. By 1914 the United States Postal Service ordered 4,800 motorcycle and sidecar units from Harley-Davidson to use to deliver mail on rural routes, where mail carriers sometimes had to drive miles between deliveries.
In 1908, the Postal Service experimented with three-wheeled motorcycles, the forerunner of the Servi-Car, for mail. According to the U.S. Postal Museum, these vehicles solved the problem of where to put the mail, but they did not perform well on rural roads and the USPS eventually abandoned the plan to use them. They motorcycle and sidecar combination held up better on long rural routes, though maneuvering with the sidecar took skill and the amount of mail a carrier could handle was limited.
Advantages of the Servi-Car
A 1934 brochure for the Servi-Car advertises the vehicle as ideal for delivery packages at much less cost than driving a car or truck. The Servi-Car’s cart could handle 500 lbs. of mail and used less gas than a car or truck. With the box in the center back, the Servi-Car was easier to navigate. The box provided space for an advertising logo or the Postal Service legend. But no record exists of the Postal Service using the Servi-Car on any kind of large scale.
Decline of the Servi-Car
By the 1930s the USPS was focused on developing a fleet of trucks to deliver mail. Trucks could carry more parcels and mail and kept the postal carrier out of the weather, a concern during cold, snowy winters, wet springs and hot summers. In cities, smaller Cushman vehicles were almost as economical to operate as Servi-Cars and offered the advantage of an enclosed cab to protect the driver.