Rural free mail delivery became an official service of the U.S. Post Office Department in 1896. Various experiments were conducted relative to the service for the five years previous. Prior to rural free delivery, residents of rural areas either had to gravel to distance post offices to pick up mail or pay private carriers to deliver. There was much opposition to the service when it was begun: private carriers feared an end to their business and local merchants feared mail delivery would reduce the number of visits to town by rural families. Originally, users of the service had as their address a rural route and box number, i.e., RR4, Box 9. With the advent of the 911 emergency system, street names and numbers replaced the original addresses.