In the United States, hundreds of millions of pieces of mail are sent every single day. Often taken for granted, this impressive system of mailing by the U.S. Postal Service is an integral part of communication and delivery. The U.S. Postal Service's importance has grown throughout its history, and the way mail has been delivered over the years has evolved since its conception in the late 18th century. The postal services place in the future is still being discussed today.
Initially in 1775, Benjamin Franklin was elected the first Postmaster General under the Continental Congress, and he is often given credit as being the first Postmaster General. He had worked in the postal service while America was still a colony under British rule, and made significant contributions. However, under the Constitution, the first Postmaster General was a man by the name of Samuel Osgood. The U.S. government began to tweak the system carefully, to make mailing letters, parcels, and packages much more efficient. Initially, when letters were sent, the receiver paid the cost of the letter, not the sender. However this proved to only increase the likelihood of mail being refused; therefore, couriers would be expending effort without receiving compensation for delivery. So the postal service developed stamps in the mid-1800's to provide a more efficient service as well as create a standard for delivery costs.
The Pony Express came into play in the latter mid-1800's as a way to provide a quick overland passage to California. Before the Pony Express, parcels had to be shipped to Panama, carried over land a little ways, and then shipped again. The Pony Express cut straight through the United States and over the Rocky Mountains. Thankfully for the horses, mail was soon being delivered by trains and then automobiles in early 1900's. Then to make deliveries speedier, planes began to deliver parcels and packages. The postal service was constantly trying to create postal routes to rural areas and to make delivering mail more and more efficient.
Mail was beginning to be streamlined internationally, and began reducing residential delivery times. However, due to the efficiency of the postal service, there was a tremendous increase in mail volume, and the postal service began to implement a number system to help with delivery called the Zoning Improvement Plan, or the ZIP Code. This helped sort mail and make deliveries more efficient. Technology also helped improved the postal service's efficiency by streamlining sorting and delivering methods.
In 1970, the Postal Reorganization Act made the, what was called the United States Post Office Department, become the United States Postal Service. The U.S. Postal Service was an independent agent of the government which meant that the postal service was run more like a business than a government agent. Today, the U.S. Postal Service is still the largest postal service in the United States despite other privatized companies.
To learn more about the U.S. Postal Service, consult the following links:
- United States Postal History Timeline
A timeline of the United States Postal Service.
- The Storied History of the United States Postal Service
A presentation of the history of the United States Postal Service with photographs.
- This Week in History: The Post Office and the Constitution
An analysis of the Post Office and its place in the Constitution.
- Interactive History of the U.S. Postal Service
An overview of changes that the postal service has made over time.
- Timeline: A Century of Mail (1910-2010)
A timeline of the postal service between 1910 and 2010.
- The Early Postal System
A general overview of the early postal system.
- Parcel Post: Delivery of Dreams
A timeline with photographs of the development of parcel post.
- Why we need the Postal Service
A look at the necessity of the postal service in the past as well as the present day.
- National Postal Museum
A museum site that offers information about the postal service and its history.
- The History of Communication Technology: Postal System
A perspective on the history of post system as a technology of communication.
- Post Office Records
Archives of Post Office Records from the National Archives.
- The Challenge to the U.S. Postal Monopoly, 1839-1851
Information on the privatization of the postal service during the 1800's in response to the government's postal system.
- Women in the U.S. Postal System
A summary of important women in the history of the U.S. Postal System.
- American Postal Workers Union History
Information about the history of the APWU.
- Transportation in America's Postal System
A history of the types of transportation that the U.S. postal system has used.
- The Future of the Post Office
A discussion of the future of the postal service in a digital age.