Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society, Inc.

Search this site and our local communities. Wisconsin History Search Only

You may now join, or renew your SLAHS membership using your PayPal account, credit, or debit card.

Please use the following link to make a secure on-line payment.

About Us
Search this site
Monetary Donations

Artifact Donations

Buy A Brick Donation

Fundraiser Letter

Notable Links
Index to Wisconsin Brewery and Related Articles


Local History Index

United States Postal History Timeline


Information courtesy of the United States Postal Service

Compiled and Edited by Michael R. Reilly

Last Revised 03/03/2005

also see Post Offices, Postmasters, Mail Carriers and Mail Delivery History for Sussex, Lisbon, Lake Five, Colgate, Templeton and Lannon, Waukesha County, Wisconsin

1639- Richard Fairbanks' tavern in Boston named repository for overseas
1775- Benjamin Franklin first Postmaster General under Continental
1789- Samuel Osgood, first Postmaster General under Constitution
1823- Navigable waters designated post roads by Congress
1825- Dead letter office
1829- Postmaster General joins Cabinet
1830- Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations established, later
Office of the Chief Postal Inspector
1838- Railroads designated post routes by Congress
    At least three decades before the Pony Express galloped into postal history, the "iron horse" made a formal appearance. In August 1829, an English-built locomotive, the Stourbridge Lion completed the first locomotive run in the United States on the Delaware and Hudson Canal
Company Road in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. One month later, the South Carolina Railroad Company adopted the locomotive as its tractive power, and, in 1830, the Baltimore & Ohio's Tom Thumb, America's first steam railroad locomotive, successfully carried more than 40 persons at a speed exceeding 10 miles an hour. This beginning was considered somewhat
less than auspicious when a stage driver's horse outran the Tom Thumb on a parallel track in a race at Ellicotts Mills, Maryland, on September 18, 1830. Later, however, a steam locomotive reached the unheard-of speed of 30 miles an hour in an 1831 competition in Baltimore, and the dray horses used to power the first trains were eased out.
    The Post Office Department recognized the value of this new mode of transportation for mail as early as November 30, 1832, when the stage contractors on a route from Philadelphia to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, were granted an allowance of $400 per year "for carrying the mail on the railroad as far as West Chester (30 miles) from December 5, 1832."
Although the Department apparently entered into a number of contracts providing for rail transportation as a part of the stage routes in succeeding years, the Postmaster General listed only one railroad company as a contractor during the first six months of 1836, "Route 1036 from Philadelphia to Mauch Chunk, Pennsylvania. "
    After passage of the Act of July 7, 1838, designating all railroads in the United States as post routes, mail service by railroad increased rapidly. The Post Office appointed a route agent to accompany the mails between Albany and Utica, New York, in 1837. The first route agent was
John Kendall, nephew of Postmaster General Amos Kendall. In June 1840, two mail agents were appointed to accompany the mail from Boston to Springfield "to make exchanges of mails, attend to delivery, and receive and forward all unpaid way letters and packages received." At this time, mail was sorted in distributing post offices. The only mail sent to the agents on the railroad lines was that intended for dispatch to offices along each route. The route agents opened the pouches from the local offices, separated the mail for other local
points on the line for inclusion in the pouches for those offices, and sent the balance into the distributing post offices for further sorting. Gradually, the clerks began to make up mail for connecting lines, as well as local offices, and the idea of distributing all transit mail on the cars slowly evolved.
    The first experiment in distributing U.S. mail in so-called "post offices on wheels" was made in 1862 between Hannibal and St. Joseph, Missouri, by William A. Davis, postmaster of St. Joseph. Although this new procedure expedited the connection at St. Joseph with the overland
stage, it was discontinued in January 1863. On August 28, 1864, the first U.S. Railroad Post Office route was officially established when George B. Armstrong, the assistant postmaster of Chicago, Illinois, placed a postal car equipped for general distribution in service between
Chicago and Clinton, Iowa, on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad. Similar routes were established between New York and Washington; Chicago and Rock Island, Illinois; Chicago and Burlington, Illinois; and New York and Erie, Pennsylvania.
    When railroad mail service began, mostly letter mail was sorted on the cars, which were not equipped to distribute other kinds of mail. By about 1869, other mail, except packages, was sorted as well. In 1930, more than 10,000 trains were used to move the mail into every city, town, and village in the United States. Following passage of the Transportation Act of 1958, mail-carrying passenger trains declined rapidly. By 1965, only 190 trains carried mail; by 1970, the railroads carried virtually no First-Class Mail.
    On April 30, 1971, the Post Office Department terminated seven of the eight remaining routes. The lone, surviving railroad post office ran between New York and Washington, D.C., and made its last run on June 30, 1977.
1845- Star routes
1847- U. S. Postage stamps issued
1852- Stamped envelopes
1855- Registered Mail
1855- Compulsory prepayment of postage
1858- Street letter boxes
1860- Pony Express
1861 - Confederate Postal Service
The Post Office Department of the Confederate States of America was established on February 21, 1861, by an Act of the Provisional Congress
of the Confederate States. On March 6, 1861, the day after Montgomery Blair's appointment by President Abraham Lincoln as Postmaster General of the United States, John Henninger Reagan, a former U. S. Congressman, was appointed Postmaster General of the Confederate States of America by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederate States.
South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas already had seceded from the Nation. In the following months, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and most of Tennessee followed suit. Reagan instructed southern postmasters to continue to render their accounts to the United States as before until the Confederate postal
system was organized. Meanwhile, he sent job offers to southern men in the Post Office Department in Washington. Many accepted and brought along their expertise, as well as copies of postal reports, forms in use, postal maps, etc.
    In May 1861, Reagan issued a proclamation stating that he would officially assume control of the postal service of the Confederate States on June 1, 1861. Postmaster General Blair responded by ordering the cessation of United States mail service throughout the South on May 31, 1861.
    Although an able administrator headed the Confederate Post Office Department, its mail service was continuously interrupted. Through a combination of pay and personnel cuts, postage rate increases, and the streamlining of mail routes, Reagan eliminated the deficit that existed in the postal service in the South. But blockades and the invading army from the North, as well as a growing scarcity of postage stamps, severely hampered postal operations. The resumption of federal mail service in the southern states took place gradually as the war came to an end. By November 15, 1865, 241 mail routes had been restored in southern states; by November 1, 1866, 3,234 post offices out of 8,902 were returned to federal control in the South.
    Postmaster General Reagan was arrested at the end of the war but later was pardoned and eventually made it back to Congress, where he became chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.
1862- Railway mail service, experimental
1863- Free city delivery
    In the early part of the 19th century, envelopes were not used. Instead, a letter was folded and the address placed on the outside of the sheet. The customer had to take a letter to the post office to mail it, and the addressee had to pick up the letter at the post office, unless he or she
lived in one of about 40 big cities where a carrier would deliver it to the home address for an extra penny or two. Although postage stamps became available in 1847, mailers had the option of sending their letters and having the recipients pay the postage until 1855, when prepayment became compulsory. Previously, if the addressees refused to accept the letter -- and they often did -- the Post Office's labor and delivery costs were never recovered. Street boxes for mail collection began to appear in large cities by 1858. In 1863, free city delivery was instituted in 49 of the country's largest cities. By 1890, 454 post offices were delivering mail to residents of United States cities. It was not until the turn of the century, however, that free delivery came to farmers and other rural residents.
1863- Uniform postage rates, regardless of distance
1863- Domestic mail divided into three classes
1864- Post offices categorized by classes
1864- Railroad post offices
1864- Domestic money orders
1869- Foreign or international money orders
1872- Congress enacts Mail Fraud Statute
1873- Penny postal card
1874- General Postal Union (later Universal Postal Union)
1879- Domestic mail divided into four classes
1880- Congress establishes title of Chief Post Office Inspector
1885- Special Delivery
1887- International parcel post
1893- First commemorative stamps
1896- Rural free delivery, experimental
    Today it is difficult to envision the isolation that was the lot of farm families in early America. In the days before telephones, radios, or televisions were common, the farmer's main links to the outside world were the mail and the newspapers that came by mail to the nearest post office. Since the mail had to be picked up, this meant a trip to the post office, often involving a day's travel, round-trip. The farmer might delay picking up mail for days, weeks, or even months until the trip could be coupled with one for supplies, food, or equipment.
    John Wanamaker of Pennsylvania was the first Postmaster General to advocate rural free delivery (RFD). Although funds were appropriated a month before he left office in 1893, subsequent Postmasters General dragged their feet on inaugurating the new service so that it was 1896 before the first experimental rural delivery routes began in West Virginia, with carriers working out of post offices in Charlestown, Halltown, and Uvilla.
    Many transportation events in postal history were marked by great demonstrations: the Pony Express for example, and scheduled airmail service in 1918. The West Virginia experiment with rural free delivery, however, was launched in relative obscurity and in an atmosphere of hostility. Critics of the plan claimed it was impractical and too
expensive to have a postal carrier trudge over rutted roads and through forests trying to deliver mail in all kinds of weather. However, the farmers, without exception, were delighted with the new service and the new world open to them. After receiving free delivery
for a few months, one observed that it would take away part of life to give it up. A Missouri farmer looked back on his life and calculated that, in 15 years, he had traveled 12,000 miles going to and from his post office to get the mail.
    A byproduct of rural free delivery was the stimulation it provided to the development of the great American system of roads and highways. A prerequisite for rural delivery was good roads. After hundreds of petitions for rural delivery were turned down by the Post Office because of unserviceable and inaccessible roads, responsible local governments began to extend and improve existing highways. Between 1897 and 1908, these local governments spent an estimated $72 million on bridges, culverts, and other improvements. In one county in Indiana, farmers themselves paid over $2,600 to grade and gravel a road in order to qualify for RFD. The impact of RFD as a cultural and social agent for millions of Americans was even more striking, and, in this respect, rural delivery still is a vital link between industrial and rural America.
1898- Private postcards authorized
1902- Rural free delivery, permanent
1911- Postal savings system
    An Act of Congress on June 25, 1910, established a postal savings system in post offices, effective January 1, 1911. The legislation aimed to get money out of hiding, attract the savings of immigrants accustomed to saving at post offices in their native countries, provide safe depositories for people who had lost confidence in private banks, and furnish more convenient depositories for working people, since post offices were open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., six days a week. The system paid two percent interest per year. The minimum deposit was
$1, the maximum, $2,500. Deposits were slow at first, but, by 1929, $153 million was on deposit. Savings spurted to $1.2 billion during the 1930s and jumped again during World War II, peaking in 1947 at almost $3.4 billion.
    After the war, banks raised their interest rates and offered the same governmental guarantee as the postal savings system, and savings bonds gave higher interest rates. Deposits in the postal savings system declined. By 1964, they dropped to $416 million, and they continued to
decline by $5 million per month.
    On April 27, 1966, the Post Office Department stopped accepting deposits in existing accounts, refused to open new accounts, and, as the yearly anniversary date of existing accounts came up, cut off interest payments. When the system ended officially on July 1, 1967, about $60 million in unclaimed deposits of more than 600,000 depositors was turned over to the Treasury Department to be held in trust, without a time limitation.
    Eventually, under a law of August 13, 1971, the Treasury was authorized to turn over the money still on deposit to various states and jurisdictions, each sharing proportionately. Some money was kept on deposit for future claims, but under the Postal Savings System Statute
of Limitations Act of July 13, 1984 (Public Law 98-359), no claims could be brought more than one year after enactment. Thus, no claims made after July 13, 1985, have been honored.
1911- Carriage of mail by airplane sanctioned between Garden City and Mineola, NY; Earle H. Ovington, first U. S. mail pilot
1912- Village delivery
1913- Parcel post
    The establishment of rural delivery was a heady taste of life for rural Americans and soon increased their demand for delivery of small packages containing foodstuffs, tobacco, dry goods, drugs, and other commodities not easily available to farmers. Private express companies and country retail merchants fought long and hard against parcel post, but rural residents represented 54 percent of the country's population, and they were equally vociferous. While the question was still being hotly debated in Congress, one of the express
companies declared a large dividend to stockholders, and public indignation at so-called exorbitant profits helped decide the issue for Congress.
    Parcel post became law in 1912, and service began January 1, 1913. It was an instant success. In all parts of the country, enthusiastic advocates of the service celebrated by mailing thousands of parcels in the first few days. The effect on the national economy was electric.
Marketing and merchandising through parcel post gave rise to great mail-order houses.
    Montgomery Ward, the first mail-order house, started with a one-page catalog in 1872. After parcel post began, the mail order catalog became the most important book in the farmhouse next to the Bible; it was, in fact, often called - "The Homesteader's Bible" or "The Wish Book."
Sears, Roebuck and Company followed Montgomery Ward in 1893. In 1897, after one year of rural delivery, Sears boasted it was selling four suits and a watch every minute, a revolver every two minutes, and a buggy every 10 minutes. After five years of parcel post delivery, Sears had tripled its revenues.

Assembling Bricks for a Home

    Bricks to be used in building a brick home at the Coliseum, Chicago, during the clay products exposition which is being held from Feb. 26 to Mar. 8, were sent by manufacturers - three from each - by parcels post. Twenty-five thousand were sent from brick plants in the United States to be used in the construction of this house, which will be given away and
re-erected after the exposition.
    The idea was originated to test the merits of the parcel post system and it is certainly a novel one. A record will be kept of bricks from the time they are mailed until delivered in Chicago in order to see how speedily Uncle Sam can deliver a brick house by mail.

            Source: Waukesha Freeman, March 6, 1913
1913- Insurance
1913- Collect-on-delivery
    A staggering variety of goods went by parcel post through the years. Farm fresh eggs, a mainstay of the early service, were among the first items sent. Baby chicks--not a favorite among carriers due to their noise, smell, and tendency to expire en route--also traveled by parcel post in specially constructed boxes.
    In the pre-World War I days, before the practice was banned, even children were sent parcel post. A mother involved in an acrimonious divorce in 1914 shipped a baby from Stillwell to South Bend, Indiana, where its father, who had won custody, resided. For 17 cents, the child
traveled in a container marked "Live Baby." Postal workers saw to its safe arrival.
    That same year, the parents of a blonde four-year-old named May Pierstroff sent her from Grangeville, Idaho, to her grandparents in another part of the state for 53 cents, the going rate for mailing chickens. May, who rode in the mail car with postage stamps attached to her coat, was safely delivered by a mail clerk. Word of her excursion soon prompted the Post Office Department to forbid sending any human being by mail.
    In 1916, an entire bank--probably the largest object ever sent by parcel post--was dismantled and shipped from Salt Lake City, Utah, to Vernal, California. Its 80,000 bricks were shipped in 50-pound lots, one ton at a time. While the shipments saved the cost of wagon freight, they caused untold headaches and back strain for local postmasters and railroad workers. Too late to stop that shipment, the postmaster general decreed that henceforth a single shipper could post no more than 200 pounds a day.
    Some postal customers have entrusted treasured belongings to the Post Office. The world-famous Hope diamond arrived safely at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., after being sent from New York City by Harry Winston, its owner, in an ordinary brown package, insured for $1 million.
    If RFD and parcel post were slow in coming to the Post Office Department, so also was its use of the airplane to carry mail. In 1910, Congressman Morris Sheppard of Texas introduced a bill in the House of Representatives instructing the postmaster general to study the
feasibility of using airplanes to ferry mail between the nation's capital and another city. Sheppard's bill died in committee, but aviation had already captured the interest of Frank H. Hitchcock, the postmaster general at the time.
    In September 1911, Hitchcock authorized the first official mail flight by airplane within the United States to take place during an aviation meet on New York's Long Island. On that occasion, Earle Ovington flew his cargo of letters and postcards from Garden City Estates five and a half miles to the neighboring community of Mineola. Although Hitchcock continued to promote the use of aviation for delivering the mail by authorizing similar flights during other meets, it was several more years before Congress authorized funds for air postal service.
    In 1918, Congress appropriated $200,000 over two years for the establishment of experimental, scheduled airmail service between the District of Columbia and New York or Philadelphia. The Post Office called for bids to build five planes, but their production was put on hold when the Army Signal Corps offered the services of its pilots to fly the mail in military aircraft as a way to provide the aviators experience in cross-country flying.
    Early pilots were a daring if not reckless lot. They flew without instruments, radios, or navigational tools, and safe landing sites were few and far between. Run-ins with houses, chimneys, and trees were common. One flier who crashed into a tree reported that he had delivered the mail to a "branch" office.
    Due to the pilots' need for visual references on the ground, planes carried mail only in the daytime. In order to make night flying possible, the Department installed radio stations at flying fields. In February 1921, mail was flown for the first time by day and night from
San Francisco to New York.
    With this accomplishment, Congress finally recognized the potential of air postal routes and appropriated $1.25 million to expand the air service by installing more landing fields, towers, beacons, searchlights, and boundary markers across the country. The Post Office
also began fitting airplanes with luminescent instruments, parachute flares, and navigational lights. During the 1920s, the Post Office received special awards for its contribution to the development of aeronautics and aviation.
    Commercial airlines began to carry the mail in 1926, and soon the Post Office initiated the transfer of its lights, radio service, and airways to the Commerce Department. Terminal airports, except for Chicago, Omaha, and San Francisco, were transferred to local municipalities. By 1927, all airmail was carried under contract.
    The introduction of regular airmail service in 1918 rendered the U.S. Post Office system complete. The task of accommodating the nation's vast geographical area and a growing population during an era of significant developments in transportation had been accomplished, leaving the department with the job of improving and refining the existing structure. However, as Americans gained greater access to the world around them through the telephone, radio, and then television, they tended to worry less about the quality of their postal service. Since congressmen did not hear complaints from their constituents about the postal system, they focused their attention on other issues.
    One persistent area of complaint, however, involved the Post Office Department's use of patronage in hiring and promotion. The Pendleton Act, passed in 1883 following the assassination of President James A. Garfield by a disappointed job-seeker, established the Civil Service Commission and laid down rules for gaining government employment. But the Post Office seemed unable to separate itself from the patronage system entirely. Other labor problems manifested themselves as well. Postal workers earned considerably lower wages than other government employees. And as the volume of mail increased, workers worried that they would lose their jobs to machines that could more quickly and efficiently handle the greater load.
    In October 1966, concerned workers caused a virtual shut-down of Chicago's post office, the world's largest postal facility. Service was paralyzed, management authority broke down, and millions of cross-country letters and parcels were delayed for weeks. The emergency led Postmaster General Lawrence F. O'Brien to urge publicly that the postal service be removed from the president's cabinet and converted into a non-government corporation. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed a commission to determine if the current postal system was "capable of meeting the demands of our growing economy and an expanding population."

    The commission's four-volume report on its findings predicted a deficit of $15 billion within the next 10 years if action were not taken. The Post Office today, the commissioners said, was a business and should operate by the revenue it generates. President Richard M. Nixon and his postmaster general, Winton M. Blount, were also committed to postal reorganization and incorporated their reforms into the Postal Service Act of 1969. Congress took no action on
the proposed legislation, although it had a spirited debate on the idea of separating the Post Office from the executive branch, with those representing rural areas most inclined to keep the department under governmental control.
    Finally, in August 1970, Congress sent the Postal Reorganization Act to President Nixon for his signature. Under this legislation, the Post Office Department became an independent agency directed by a nine-member board of governors. This board would appoint the postmaster general and deputy postmaster general for day-to-day administration of the service.
The new United States Postal Service received a distinctive insignia, a host of obligations, and a future, like the history of its predecessor--the U.S. Post Office Department--filled with innovation and change.
    The familiar quotation inscribed on the post office building in New York City--"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds"--was never, as many believe, the official motto of the Post Office
Department. Adapted from the writings of the Greek historian Herodotus in the fifth century B.C., the words nonetheless suggest the determination to overcome problems that has characterized the monumental efforts to move the mail in the United States since the establishment of the Post Office Department by the Second Continental Congress in 1775.
1914- Government-owned and -operated vehicle service
1916- Postal Inspectors solve last known stagecoach robbery
1918- Airmail
    The Post Office Department's most extraordinary role in transportation was probably played in the sky, a role, unfortunately, little known today other than to postal employees and the pioneers of American aviation.
    The United States government had been slow to recognize the potential of the airplane. In 1905, the War Department refused three separate offers by the Wright brothers to share their scientific discoveries on air flights. Even after the brothers had satisfied many European nations in 1908 that air flight was feasible, America owned only one dilapidated plane.
    The Post Office Department, however, was intrigued with the possibility of carrying mail through the skies and authorized its first experimental mail flight in 1911 at an aviation meet on Long Island in New York. Earle Ovington, sworn in as a mail carrier by Postmaster General Frank Hitchcock, made daily flights between Garden City and Mineola, New York, dropping his mail bags from the plane to the ground where they were picked up by the Mineola postmaster.
    Later, in 1911 and 1912, the Department authorized 52 experimental flights at fairs, carnivals, and air meets in more than 25 states. These flights convinced the Department that the airplane could carry a payload of mail, and officials repeatedly urged Congress after 1912 to appropriate money to launch airmail service. Congress finally authorized use of $50,000 from steam-and-powerboat service appropriations for airmail experiments in 1916. The Department advertised for bids in Massachusetts and Alaska but received no response in the absence of suitable planes.
    In 1918, however, Congress appropriated $100,000 to establish experimental airmail routes, and the Post Office Department urged the Army Signal Corps to lend its planes and pilots to the Post Office to start an airmail service. Carrying the mail, the Department argued,
would provide invaluable cross-country experience to student flyers. The Secretary of War agreed.
    On May 15, 1918, the Post Office Department began scheduled airmail service between New York and Washington, D.C., an important date not only for the Post Office but for all commercial aviation. Simultaneous takeoffs were made from Washington's Polo Grounds and from Belmont Park, Long Island, both trips by way of Philadelphia. During the first three months of operation, the Post Office used Army pilots and six Jenny training planes of the Army (JN-4Hs) . On August 12, 1918, the Post Office took over all phases of the airmail service,
using newly hired civilian pilots and mechanics and six specially built mail planes from the Standard Aircraft Corporation.
    These early mail planes had no instruments, radios, or other navigational aids. Pilots flew by dead reckoning or "by the seat of their pants." Forced landings occurred frequently because of bad weather, but fatalities in those early months were rare, largely because of the small size, maneuverability, and slow landing speed of the planes. Congress authorized airmail postage of 24 cents, including special delivery. The public was reluctant to use this more expensive service, and, during the first year, airmail bags contained as much regular mail as airmail.
    The Department's long-range plans called for an eventual transcontinental air route from New York to San Francisco to better its delivery time on long hauls and to lure the public into using airmail. The first legs of this transcontinental route -- from Cleveland to Chicago, with a stop at Bryan, Ohio, and from New York to Cleveland with a stop at Bellefonte, Pennsylvania -- opened in 1919. A third leg opened in 1920 from Chicago to Omaha, via Iowa City, and feeder lines were established from St. Louis and Minneapolis to Chicago. The last transcontinental segment from Omaha to San Francisco, via North Platte, Cheyenne, Rawlins, Rock Springs, Salt Lake City, Elko, and Reno opened on September 8, 1920. At this time, mail was still carried on trains at night and flown by day, but, even so, the new service bettered cross-country all-rail time by 22 hours.
    To provide pilots with up-to-date weather information needed to fly the mail all the way from New York to San Francisco, the Department began to install radio stations at each flying field in August 1920. By November, ten stations were operating, including two Navy stations. When airmail traffic permitted, other government departments used the radios instead
of the telegraph for special messages, and the Department of Agriculture transmitted weather forecasts and stock market reports over the radios.
    On February 22,1921, mail was flown both day and night for the first time over the entire distance from San Francisco to New York. Congress was impressed. It appropriated $1,250,000 for the expansion of airmail service, especially ground facilities, and the Post Office Department went on to install additional landing fields, as well as towers, beacons, searchlights, and boundary markers across the country. It also equipped the planes with luminescent instruments, navigational lights, and parachute flares.
    In 1922 and 1923, the Department was awarded the Collier Trophy for important contributions to the development of aeronautics, especially its safety record, and for demonstrating the feasibility of night flying. In 1926, an airmail pilot received the first Harmon Trophy for advancing aviation.
    On February 2,1925, Congress passed a law "to encourage commercial aviation and to authorize the Postmaster General to contract for mail service." The Post Office immediately invited bids for its routes by commercial aviation. By the end of 1926, 11 out of 12 contracted airmail routes were operating.
    The first commercial airmail flight in the United States occurred on February 15, 1926. As commercial airlines took over, the Post Office Department transferred its lights, airways, and radio service to the Department of Commerce, including 17 fully equipped stations, 89
emergency landing fields, and 405 beacons. Terminal airports, except those in Chicago, Omaha, and San Francisco, which were government properties, were transferred to the municipalities in which they were located. Some planes were sold to airmail contractors; others were transferred to interested government departments. By September 1, 1927,
all airmail was carried under contract. Charles I. Stanton, an early airmail pilot who later headed the Civil Aeronautics Administration, said about those early days of scheduled
airmail service: "We planted four seeds . . . . They were airways, communications, navigation aids, and multi-engined aircraft. Not all of these came full blown into the transportation scene; in fact, the last one withered and died and had to be planted over again nearly a decade
later. But they are the cornerstones on which our present world-wide transport structure is built, and they came, one by one, out of our experience in daily, uninterrupted flying of the mail."
1920- Metered postage
1920- First transcontinental airmail
1924- Regular transcontinental airmail service
1925- Special handling
1927- International airmail
1935- Trans-Pacific airmail
1939- Trans-Atlantic airmail
1939- Autogiro service, experimental
1941- Highway post offices
1942- V-mail
1943- Postal zoning system in 124 major post offices
1948- Parcel post international air service
1948- Parcel post domestic air service
1950- Residential deliveries cut from two to one a day
1953- Piggy-back mail service by trailers or railroad flatcars
1953- Airlift
1955- Certified mail
1957- Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
1959- Missile mail dispatched from submarine to mainland Florida
    Throughout its history, the Postal Service enthusiastically has explored faster, more efficient forms of mail transportation. Technologies now commonplace -- railroads, automobiles, and airplanes -- were embraced by the Post Office Department at their radical birth, when they were considered new-fangled, unworkable contraptions by many.
    One such technology, however, remains only a footnote in the history of mail delivery. On June 8, 1959, in a move a postal official heralded as "of historic significance to the peoples of the entire world," the Navy submarine U.S.S. Barbero fired a guided missile carrying 3,000 letters at the Naval Auxiliary Air Station in Mayport, Florida. "Before man reaches the moon," the official was quoted as saying, "mail will be delivered within hours from New York to California, to Britain, to India or Australia by guided missiles - missile mail."
    History proved differently, but this experiment with missile mail exemplifies the pioneering spirit of the Post Office Department when it came to developing faster, better ways of moving the mail.
1960- Facsimile mail
1963- ZIP Code and sectional center plan
    The change in character of the mail, the tremendous increase in mail volume, and the revolution in transportation, coupled with the steep rise in manpower costs, made adoption of modern technology imperative and helped produce the ZIP Code or Zoning Improvement Plan.
    Despite the growing transport accessibility offered by the airlines, the Post Office Department in 1930 still moved the bulk of its domestic mail by rail, massing, re-sorting, and redistributing it for long distance hauling through the major railroad hubs of the nation. More than 10,000 mail-carrying trains crisscrossed the country, moving round the clock into virtually every village and metropolitan area. The railroads' peak year may have been 1930.     By 1963, fewer trains, making fewer stops, carried the mail. In these same years, 1930-1963, the United States underwent many changes. It suffered through a prolonged and paralyzing depression, fought its second World War of the 20th century, and moved from an agricultural economy to a highly industrial one of international preeminence. The character, volume, and
transportation of mail also changed.
    The social correspondence of the earlier century gave way, gradually at first, and then explosively, to business mail. By 1963, business mail constituted 80 percent of the total volume. The single greatest impetus in this great outpouring of business mail was the computer, which brought centralization of accounts and a growing mass of utility bills
and payments, bank deposits and receipts, advertisements, magazines, insurance premiums, credit card transactions, department store and mortgage billings, and payments, dividends, and Social Security checks traveling through the mail.
    In June 1962, the Presidentially appointed Advisory Board of the Post Office Department, after a study of its overall mechanization problems, made several primary recommendations. One was that the Department give priority to the development of a coding system, an idea that had been under consideration in the Department for a decade or more. Over the years, a number of potential coding programs had been examined and discarded. Finally, in 1963, the Department selected a system advanced by department officials, and, on April 30, 1963, Postmaster General John A. Gronouski announced that the ZIP Code would begin on
July 1, 1963.
    Preparing for the new system was a major task involving realignment of the mail system. The Post Office had recognized some years back that new avenues of transportation would open to the Department and began to establish focal points for air, highway, and rail transportation. Called the Metro System, these transportation centers were set up around 85 of
the country's larger cities to deflect mail from congested, heavily traveled city streets. The Metro concept was expanded and eventually became the core of 552 sectional centers, each serving between 40 and 150 surrounding post offices. Once these sectional centers were delineated, the next step in establishing the ZIP Code was to assign codes to the centers and the postal addresses they served. The existence of postal zones in the larger cities, set in motion in 1943, helped to some extent, but, in cases where the old zones failed to fit within the delivery areas, new numbers had to be assigned.
    By July 1963, a five-digit code had been assigned to every address throughout the country. The first digit designated a broad geographical area of the United States, ranging from zero for the Northeast to nine for the far West. This was followed by two digits that more closely pinpointed population concentrations and those sectional centers accessible to common transportation networks. The final two digits designated small post offices or postal zones in larger zoned cities. ZIP Code began on July 1, 1963, as scheduled. Use of the new code was not mandatory at first for anyone, but, in 1967, the Post Office required mailers of second- and third-class bulk mail to presort by ZIP Code. Although the public and mailers alike adapted well to its use, it was not enough.
1964- Self-service post offices
1964- Simplified postmark
1965- Optical scanner (ZIP Code reader tested)
1966- Postal savings system terminated
1967- Mandatory presorting by ZIP Code for second- and third-class mailers
1968- Priority Mail, a subclass of First-Class Mail
1969- Patronage no longer a factor in postmaster and rural carrier appointments
1969- First die proof of a postage stamp canceled on moon by Apollo 11 mission
1970- Postal Reorganization Act
1970- Express Mail, experimental
1971- United States Postal Service began operation; Postmaster General no longer in Cabinet
1971- Labor contract achieved through collective bargaining for the first time in history of federal government
1971- Star routes changed to highway contract routes
1971- National service standards established: overnight delivery of 95% of airmail within 600 miles and 95% of First-Class Mail within local areas
1972- Stamps by mail
1972- Passport applications accepted in post offices
1973- National service standards expanded to include second-day delivery of parcel post traveling up to 150 miles, with one-day delivery time added for each additional 400 miles
1974- Highway post offices terminated
1974- First satellite transmission of MAILGRAMs
         - Self-adhesive stamps introduced
1976- Post office class categories eliminated
1976- Discount for presorted First-Class Mail
1977- Airmail abolished as a separate rate category
1977- Express Mail, permanent new class of service
1977- Final run of railroad post office on June 30
1978- Discount for presorted second-class mail
1978- Postage stamps and other philatelic items copyrighted
1979- Discount for presorted bulk third-class mail
1979- Postal Career Executive Service (PCES)
1980- New standards require envelopes and postcards to be at least 3 1/2" high and 5" long to be mailable
1980- INTELPOST (high-speed international electronic message service)
1981- Controlled circulation classification discontinued
1981- Discount for First-Class Mail presorted to carrier routes
1982- Automation begins with installation of optical character readers
1982- E-COM (Electronic Computer-Originated Mail, electronic message service with hard copy delivery)
         - Last year Postal Service accepted public service subsidy
1983- ZIP + 4

    Introduced in 1983, the ZIP+4 code added a hyphen and four digits to the existing five digit ZIP Code. The first five numbers continued to identify an area of the country and delivery office to which mail is directed. The sixth and seventh numbers denote a delivery sector, which may be several blocks, a group of streets, a group of post office boxes, several office buildings, a single high rise office building, a large apartment building, or a small geographic area. The last two numbers denote a delivery segment, which might be one floor of an office building, one side of a street between intersecting streets, specific departments in a firm, or a group of post office boxes. On October 1, 1983, the Governors of the Postal Service approved price incentives for First-Class Mail bearing the ZIP+4 code. By the end of 1984, 252 OCRs were installed in 118 major mail processing centers across the country and were processing 24,000 pieces of mail per hour (an average productivity rate of 6,200 pieces per work hour) -- a
substantial increase compared to the 1,750 pieces per work hour processed by MPLSMs.

1983- Ended public service subsidy from federal government
1984- Integrated retail terminals automate postal windows
1985- Jackie Strange, first female Deputy Postmaster General
1985- E-COM terminated
1986- International Priority Airmail
1986- Postal Service realigned; field divisions created
1987- Small parcel and bundle sorters
1987- Stamps by phone
1987- Multiline optical character readers ordered
1988- Inspector General's Act extends duties of Chief Postal Inspector
1989- Universal Postal Union Congress in Washington, DC
1990- Wide area barcode readers
1990- Easy Stamp, allowing purchase of stamps through computers
1990- International business reply service
1991- Independent measurement of First-Class Mail service
1992- Remote barcoding system
1992- Reorganization: regions, divisions and management sectional centers replaced by area and district offices for customer service and mail processing
1992- Stamps sold through automatic teller machines
1993 - National Postal Museum opened, a Smithsonian Institution museum, is located in the old Post Office building next to Union Station in Washington, D.C. The Museum was created by an agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and the United States Postal Service in 1990 and opened to the public in 1993.
    The National Postal Museum celebrates the beauty and lore of stamps,
showcasing rare stamps and covers from the Museum's renowned collection.
A stamp is much more than the physical evidence that postage has been paid. Stamps can be miniature works of art, treasured keepsakes, and
rare collectibles.
1997 - Postal Service launched public internet site
1998 - First U.S. semi-postal issued
2002 - President's Commission on the U.S. Postal Service established

    Sources of Historical Information on Post Offices, Postal Employees, Mail Routes, and Mail Contractors Publication 119 July 2001
    Sources of historical information on Post Offices, Postal employees, mail routes, and mail contractors are listed chronologically and then discussed by subject.

Note:  Certain Material on this web page is the copyrighted property of the United States Postal Service® (Postal Service™). All rights reserved.


Home / About Us  / Membership / Search this site

Copyright Sussex-Lisbon Area Historical Society, Inc., , 2002 - 2016, Except as noted: All documents placed on the website remain the property of the contributors, who retain publication rights in accordance with US Copyright Laws and Regulations. In keeping with our policy of providing free information on the Internet, these documents may be used by anyone for their personal research. They may be used by non-commercial entities, when written permission is obtained from the contributor, so long as all notices and submitter information are included. These electronic pages may NOT be reproduced in any format for profit. Any other use, including copying files to other sites, requires permission from the contributors PRIOR to uploading to the other sites. The submitter has given permission to the website to store the file(s) for free access. Such permission may be revoked upon written notice to the website webmaster. Website's design, hosting, and maintenance are donated by Website Editor & Webmaster: Michael R. Reilly (Mike)