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The U.S. Mail Makes History

Feb 10, 2008
Delivering hundreds of millions of messages a day to more than 141 million U.S. homes and businesses is no small feat. Tracking the evolution of the United States Postal Service is a journey into the history of transportation, economics, industrialization, communications and government.

With an act of the Second Continental Congress in 1775, the birth of the Post Office Department, predecessor to the U.S. Postal Service, was put into place. According to the Congressional act, "a line of posts [should] be appointed under the direction of the Postmaster general, from Falmouth in New England to Savannah in Georgia, with as many cross posts as he shall think fit."

At the time, the postal system mainly carried communications between Congress and the armies, under the direction of Benjamin Franklin, the first Postmaster General. From him was established the basis of the system that has continued to serve the needs of the American people since its inception. According to the United States Postal Service, Franklin set out on a long tour to inspect the Post Offices in the North and as far away as Virginia. New and shorter mail routes were laid out and milestones were placed on principal roads. Post riders carried mail, for the first time, at night to speed service between Philadelphia and New York. By the time he left office, post roads were operating from Maine to Florida and from New York to Canada.

When Washington D.C. became the seat of government, the post office was moved there from Philadelphia. A two horse-drawn wagon carried all postal records, furniture and supplies to the new capitol. During the 19th century, the Post Office made great gains, developing new services that have lasted into the 21st century, as well as subsidizing the development of every major form of transportation.

Steamboats began traveling the rivers, replacing boats, rowboats, and rafts as a means to carry the mail. As the West lagged behind the rest of the country in the receipt of its mail, the Pony Express was established and began its run in 1860. The fastest delivery was in March, 1861 when President Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address was carried from St. Joseph to Sacramento in 7 days and 17 hours.

The first U.S. railway post office route was established in 1864 between Chicago and Clinton, Iowa on the Chicago and North Western Railroad. Terminals were established adjacent to major railroad stations to allow parcels to be sorted in the mail room and loaded onto mail cars. By 1930, more than 10,000 trains moved the mail. And although there was a decline in the use of the rail to deliver mail, the nation's freight railroads continue to carry mail through their intermodal service today.

In the early 1900s, the Post Office authorized experimental flights at fairs, carnivals, and air meets in more than 16 states. These flights convinced the Post Office that the airplane could carry a payload of mail. In 1918, the Post Office began scheduled airmail service between New York City and Washington, D.C. with military personnel flying Army planes. In 1918, the Post Office took over all phases of its airmail service. The very first commercial airmail flight took place in 1926.

With all of its advances through the decades, the Post Office almost came to a grinding halt in the mid-1960s. Years of financial neglect and fragmented control over elements such as equipment and wages created a crisis. In Chicago, 10 million pieces of mail were logjammed. The mailroom floors were bursting with millions of letters, parcels, circulars, and magazines that could not be processed. Years of neglect finally added up. In response, Congress created a postal reformation that improved pay, improved workforce benefits, and gave the postmaster more control, to name a few.

As letters account for the greatest amount of mail volume, the Postal Service introduced new equipment and technology in the 1990s to speed up letter processing. It also began to automate the processing of catalogs, magazines, and other oversized envelopes. It has also turned its attention to speeding up the processing of parcels. Its newest focus is to provide customers with more information on each mailpiece as it travels through the system. The goal is to have an intelligent mail system in place by 2009, which would operate like a Global Positioning System for mail, using a standardized barcode on each piece of mail and mail container, enabling customers to see where their mail is each step of the way.
About the Author
Safecutters Inc., provides an online store of utility knife box cutters for opening shipping boxes and shipping packages, as well as safety knives to open moving boxes and packages. For more information about Klever Kutter and other Safecutters products contact us!
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