Even before postage stamps, letter delivered came with requests for quick mailing such as DELIVER IMMEDIATELY, RUSH TO STAGE COACH and DOUBLE QUICK. By 1869, Joseph Story Fay, associated with the Smithsonian Institution, working at their Woods Hole, Massachusetts facility wrote to his congressman and requested that the post office establish a special mail service for prompt delivery of letters for an additional fee. The Universal Postal Union, an organization dedicated to improving and unifying postal standards worldwide, met in March 1885 in Lisbon, Portugal, and established such a special service for an additional fee. The US immediately jumped on the idea In October 1885 the first Special Delivery stamps were issued.
Only 555 first class offices of the 4000 post offices could actually deliver these special letters. These letters and packages did NOT receive special treatment along the route from the mailing but once they reached the applicable post office in the City, they were sent out by a specially appointed messenger, generally boys 13 to 16 years old, whose sole salary was 8 cents of the 10 cents of each letter they delivered.This is pictured on the stamp. In addition to the special delivery stamp, a first class 2 cent stamp had to be added. They could not be sent to foreign countries.
By 1912 Bicycles were used to deliver Special Delivery as pictured on the current stamps.