The U.S. Postal Service processes millions of letters across the country every single day by more than 500,000 civilians. They collect, sort and deliver letters, packages and medicine to families, businesses and medical offices through snow, rain, heat and even gloom of night.
The history of the U.S. Postal Service is rooted in the start of the country. But it’s not the boring business that delivers all those holiday gifts and goodies, letters from pen pals, medical supplies and prescriptions and other crucial items. The post office has been a vital part of communication for hundreds of years for families and businesses to ferry crucial documents and information.
Brief History of the Postal Service
The postal service was established in 1775 by the Second Continental Congress. In 1789, the U.S. Constitution authorized Congress to establish “Post offices and post roads.” Three years later, the first substantive postal law was enacted. This authorized the Postmaster General to enter into contracts for the transport of “letters, newspapers, and packets” and that post roads be made to assist in delivery. It was a contracting office for intercity transportation services until the Postal Act of 1863.
It was created as a not-for-profit, self-supporting agency. When President George Washington appointed the first postmaster general of the new nation, Samuel Osgood, in 1789, there were a little more than 70 post offices in the newly minted United States of America.
Today, there are more than 40,000 post offices spread across the country. More than 144 million homes and businesses use the U.S. Postal Service to deliver 212 billion pieces of mail every year. This includes Guam, the American Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and America Samoa.
Benjamin Franklin and the Post Office
With experience as a postmaster in London, Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General appointed by Congress on July 26, 1775. The British fired Franklin from his postmaster duties due to his revolutionary activities.
He made deliveries more efficient for the non-profit federal entity by increasing wagon runs to both day and night. Franklin also created a rate chart to standardize delivery costs based on the distance and the weight.
Post offices were originally in coffee houses and taverns, with mailboxes set up for the community to stop by and pick up mail. Eventually, a postmaster was assigned by each community. Franklin received a salary of $1,000 and $340 to hire a secretary and comptroller. He was responsible for overseeing postmasters from Massachusetts to Georgia.
The job of the postmaster carried a lot of responsibility. Other famous people who served as postmasters include Abraham Lincoln, Harry Truman, Bing Crosby, Rock Hudson and Charles Lindbergh.
Travel Times and Cost of Letters
It takes about seven hours for a letter to travel from New York to San Francisco. That same letter would have cost more than three times as much to send and taken 4 to 6 weeks to get from the Big Apple to Bay City in 1900.
Sending a letter has not always been an easy or affordable task. The cost to send a simple one-page letter from coast to coast in 1815 was .25. That amounts to around $3.65 in today’s dollars. Mailing a letter within the United States today costs around .50 cents.
Facts about the Mail
The fist postage stamp was issued in 1847. General Washington was on the first stamps and has been the most featured person on stamps through the history of the Postal Service.
With more than 500,000 workers who are vetted to carry the mail, it is the largest civilian employer in America. They also one of the largest employers of veterans.
Mailboxes weren’t painted the iconic blue until 1971. Before that, they were a rainbow of colors and hard to easily distinguish.
The village of Supai, Arizona at the base of the Grand Canyon still gets its mail delivered by mule. The rough terrain makes it difficult for cars to traverse the 8-mile road.
The unofficial motto of the U.S. Postal Service is famous, and famously misquoted. It is chiseled neatly into the granite above the entrance to the Post Office on 8th Avenue in New York City and is derived from Book 8, Paragraph 98, of “The Persian Wars by Herodotus.”Here it is in its full glory.
“Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”
In 1913, new parents the Beauges of Glen Este, Ohio, mailed their infant son through the mail for 15 cents. Actually, people knew their mailman rather well and paid the civil servant to carry their swaddled baby about a mile to the child’s grandmother, who was also friends with the mailman.
They also paid extra for $50 insurance. A few other incidents of kids being sent through the mail short distances occurred until around 1915, when it became illegal to do so. Those pics of postal carriers with babies in their bags are publicity stunts.
The Postal Service mission statement states that it “shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities.
It is the second oldest federal department in the United States.