Little Bits of History

It’s In the Mail

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 20, 2014


February 20, 1792: US President George Washington signs the Postal Service Act. William Goddard owned and operated the Pennsylvania Chronicle and was dismayed when the royal postal service could not deliver his papers with any reliability. So, on October 5, 1774 he laid out a plan before the Continental Congress for a “Constitutional Post” to help with the problem. After the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Benjamin Franklin advocated for the idea and became the first postmaster general under the Continental Congress on July 26, 1775 – almost an entire year before Congress declared independence from the British Crown. Franklin had already been postmaster of Philadelphia from 1737.

Franklin was also joint postmaster general of the colonies from 1753 to 1774 and in that capacity did much to streamline the system. He had properly marked and surveyed routes from Maine to Florida – the origins of Route 1 – and instituted overnight delivery between critical cities in New York and Philadelphia. He also created a chart with standardized rates for delivery depending on weight and distance. Samuel Osgood held the post from 1789 when the US Constitution went into effect until the government moved to Philadelphia in 1791. Timothy Pickering took over and kept the job when the post became a more official government position with the signing of this Act.

There is evidence that Egypt had a corps of royal couriers who could deliver messages from the pharaoh to his minions as early as 2400 BC. It is surmised that delivery systems were in place for some time before this. It is unknown who designed a system of posthouses and swift delivery, but they have been in existence for a very long time. The Persians, the Mauryan, and Han dynasties in China had similar systems. The Romans sped messages quickly along all the roads leading to Rome. Diocletian even had two systems, one for normal news and one for urgent correspondents. As the empire fell, so did the movement of news and information.

In the 16th century, the Princely House of Thurn and Taxis began regular mail service from Brussels and sent the mail throughout the Holy Roman Empire. The British Postal Museum claims that the oldest functioning post office in the world is on High Street in Sanquhar, Scotland. It has been in service since 1712. Today, in the US, the United States Postal Service is headquartered in Washington, D.C. This new version of mail delivery was formed on July 1, 1971. They have 522,000 employees and Patrick R Donahoe is the Postmaster General. It is now an independent agency of the US federal government and is explicitly authorized in the Constitution, one of the few agencies with that honor.

Mail your packages early so the post office can lose them in time for Christmas. – Johnny Carson

I get mail; therefore I am. – Scott Adams

If it takes the entire army and navy to deliver a postal card in Chicago, that card will be delivered. – Grover Cleveland

You know something is wrong when the government declares opening someone else’s mail is a felony but your internet activity is fair game for data collecting. – E.A. Bucchianeri

Also on this day: Iceberg Ahead – In 1856, the ship John Rutledge struck an iceberg and sunk.
Medal of Honor – Butch O’Hare was declared the first US flying ace during World War II.
The Met – In 1872. New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened.
Ice Skating – In 1998, Tara Lipinski won the gold medal at the Olympics.

One Response

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  1. hairballexpress said, on February 20, 2014 at 3:15 pm

    Very interesting post- although the US postal service is always having troubles!

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