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A Brief Look At The History Of The Post

Aug 17, 2007
From earliest times the peoples of the world have sought means of communicating with each other. These efforts may be traced to the very mists of antiquity, and before any means of written thoughts had come into use we may be sure that runners carried spoken messages between tribes.

Inca runners carried quipus - a strange collection of cords tied to a stick with the cords knotted so that the runner bearing them could slip each through his fingers and, as in counting rosary beads, recite the messages the knots recalled to memory.

Everywhere that tribes had formed and the beginnings of civilization had started, the first need was for communication with other tribes, and systems of communication were set up according to the need and the ability of the rulers to maintain them.

No one may claim the origin of the postal system. In one form or another it existed in all places on the earth wherever there were people, in all of the civilizations that have preceded our own.

All of these primitive systems existed for the benefit of the rulers. They were maintained at public expense but the runners were permitted to carry only the messages of the tribal chiefs or of latter-day kings and emperors.

It remained for Augustus Caesar to establish what most closely resembles our modern postal system. His Cursus Publicus had routes throughout the Roman Empire and the carriers were permitted to carry messages of certain high government officials not necessarily connected with the Emperor's household.

It is from this system that we get our present name "post" office. Along the roads traveled by the Roman couriers posts were established to mark the distances each should travel. Often a hostelry would be established at the post and hence we derive the word "post" and later "office".

Later the merchants of the Hanse towns along the Baltic coast set up their Hanseatic League and employed a postal service for their own convenience and occasionally, as a favor perhaps, a message would be carried for someone not a member of the league.

Still later the Counts of Thurn and Taxis established a private postal system that covered much of Europe and made their services available to all who would pay their fees. This was the beginning of our modern postal system.

In addition to the system operated by the houses of Thurn and Taxis, which, incidentally, was dignified by royal grant, there were various other private postal systems that more or less flourished in parts of Europe. One of these was conducted by the universities of France which had found it expedient to have some means available for the students to write home to get money.

In London in 1680 - almost two hundred years before the introduction of a modern postal system - William Docwra set up a "Penny Post" for the collection and delivery of letters within the limits of London City, which is a model of efficiency even to this day.

Docwra established letter boxes at designated points throughout the city as well as various branch offices. Letters would be collected from the boxes every hour and would be stamped at the branch office the exact time of their collection. This post proved so popular and so lucrative that Docwra became involved with the Duke of York who claimed royal prerogative for the delivery of mail.

In due course Docwra's post was taken over as a government function. It continued in operation until 1800 when it became "The Two-Penny Post".
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