A little history plus 16 fun facts about the USPS
“Messenger of Sympathy and Love.” “Servant of Parted Friends”, “Consoler of the Lonely”, “Bond of the Scattered Family.”
These descriptions aren’t from sappy greeting cards or bad romance novels. Believe it or not, they’re all references to the U.S. Post Office, inscribed on the building that formerly was the Washington, D.C., Post Office, and now the home of the Smithsonian Institution’s Stamp Museum.
Often underappreciated and even pilloried, the U.S. Post Office is one of our country’s most fascinating institutions. Since I’ve had the upcoming National Postal Forum on my mind, I decided to do a little bit of digging through the USPS website and see what I could find.
Admittedly, I’m more than a little geeky about history, but this site is a treasure trove of odd and amazing facts about the post office.
First, the level of connectivity the post office has with households and businesses is staggering. For example, the postal service delivers 212 billion pieces of mail each year to over 144 million homes and businesses in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Virgin Islands, and American Samoa. Each day, that totals 187.8 million pieces of mail.
Think about that. More than 600,000 postal employees make connections with friends, family, businesses, and customers by delivering to every address in America’s towns and cities, through 40,000 U.S. post offices.
A uniquely American history
The history of the U.S. Postal Service is a rich one, dating back to Colonial America, when a bar served as the first “post office,” serving as the pick-up point for mail that arrived from overseas. Our Founding Fathers established the first official Post Office Department in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 26, 1775, making it the second oldest Federal department in the United States. The first post office mainly carried information back and forth between Congress and the armies. Postmasters and post riders were exempt from military duties so service would not be interrupted.
No home delivery
By 1847, the first U.S. postage stamps were issued, and only Benjamin Franklin and George Washington were featured, for five cents and 10 cents, respectively.
That five cents didn’t include home delivery, though. If you wanted your mail, you had to go to the post office to get it. Free City Delivery wasn’t started until 1863 by an industrious postal worker in Cleveland, Ohio. He didn’t enjoy watching his female customers standing in line, in the freezing cold, waiting to get news from loved ones fighting in the war. To remedy the problem, he started delivering to his customers. Of course, this service was so popular that news quickly spread and postal home delivery became the new norm.
USPS fun facts
Uniformed letter carrier with child in mailbag, 1900 Photo courtesy of National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Babies by mail In 1913, when young parents wanted their babies to go to their grandparents, it was cheaper and easier to mail them. Yes, that’s right, it was legal to mail children. Americans could send packages weighing up to 11 pounds through the post office, the beginning of “Parcel Post.” Children were “packaged” with stamps on their clothing and rode with carriers to their destination. A 1920 law made the practice illegal.
No official motto? Did you know the post office doesn’t actually have a motto? It’s not the popular “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.” True, those words are engraved on a statue at the James A. Farley Post Office in New York City, but they’re not the motto, and technically, not true (most of us know that even the Post Office cancels delivery due to weather).
Oldest Post Office The Hinsdale, NH, Post Office (03451) has been located in the same building since 1816.
What’s in a ZIP code? The Zone Improvement Plan — ZIP — was introduced in 1963. The first number represents a general geographic area of the nation, such as “0” in the East moving to “9” in the West. The next two numbers are for regional areas and the final two for special Post Offices. Make it a ZIP+4 Code, introduced in 1983, and mail can be sorted to special streets, buildings, houses, and businesses. Today, ZIP Codes are important parts of the nation’s 911 emergency system.There are nearly 42,000 ZIP Codes in the country. They range from 00501, belonging to the Internal Revenue Service in Holtsville, NY, to 99950 in Ketchikan, AK. Perhaps the easiest one to remember is 12345, a unique ZIP Code for General Electric in Schenectady, NY.
Photo credit: Wikimedia
Delivery by Mule The most unusual delivery method used by USPS is a mule train in Arizona. The mules carry mail, food, and supplies down an 8-mile trail to the Havasupai Indians at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
Photo credit: commons.wikimedia.org
18 million trays Tray sorting machines sort more than 18 million trays of mail per day through conveyor systems.
Scratch-n-Sniff Stamp In 2018, the Postal Service released several stamps that highlighted printing technologies that were new to the production of our stamps, including the Frozen, Treats stamps — the first “scratch and sniff” stamp.
Main is the Name The most common street name in the country is Main – there are more than 13,000 of them. The longest Main Street is in Island Park, ID, and is 33 miles long.
Mail carrier and Owney the Post Office dog photo courtesy of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution.
Photo credit: public domain 9_tech_002.htm
Strictly Legal One of the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agencies is the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. They trace their roots back to August 7, 1775, when William Goddard served as the first Surveyor General of Post Roads to solve stagecoach robberies. Today, the agency ensures that the mail is used for legal purposes only and protects us against mail scams, illegal narcotics, counterfeit money orders, identity theft and more.
Underground stamps? Stamp Fulfillment Services in Kansas City, MO, is located in a limestone cave 150 feet underground. It keeps inventory and employees safe from snow, flooding, winds, and tornadoes common in the Midwest.
Women on stamps The first woman to appear on a U.S. postage stamp was Queen Isabella in 1893. The first American woman honored on a stamp was Martha Washington in 1902. The first Native American featured on a stamp was Pocahontas in 1907.
The first US stamp honoring an American woman honored Martha Washington, and it was issued in 1902.
Photo credit: Wikipedia
*This year, July 4 (the legal public holiday for Independence Day) falls on a Saturday. Post Offices will be closed and there will be no mail or package deliveries. Postal employees: Either Friday, July 3, or Saturday, July 4, will be treated as a holiday depending on employee duties and regular schedule. Check with your manager or supervisor for information on how this impacts you.
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