National Postal Services


Hill's suggestions quickly gained popular support. Uniform penny postage was introduced by the British government in 1840. The main features of Hill's reforms were gradually adopted by other countries. The first were Switzerland and Brazil in 1843.

The origin of postage stamps is uncertain. The first recorded sale of stamps, however, was on May 1, 1840, in England following adoption of Hill's reforms. In less than a year people began collecting stamps.

Great Britain

Because of the lower rates, the number of letters posted in England in 1840 was twice that of 1839. By 1870 the volume of mail had reached ten times the level it was prior to 1840. That same year postcards, first offered in Austria, were introduced. For many years only government-manufactured postcards were allowed. The use of privately made cards, which was permitted in 1894, opened the way to marketing the picture postcard. A preferential rate for books was instituted in 1848. Compensation for loss of registered mail was introduced in 1878. A parcel-post service began in 1883.

The financial services of the postal system were also expanded. A savings bank was set up in 1861. The introduction of welfare programs in the 20th century added new responsibilities to the postal service. It became the chief agency for payment of social security benefits in 1908. The post office also collects money for state social insurance programs. A banking arm, the National Girobank, was established in 1968.

The commercial value of the postal system was recognized in 1969 when it was made a public corporation. In 1981 the British Telecommunications Act divided the post office into two corporations one for telecommunications and the other for postal services and banking. The law also allows for private firms to compete with the national postal system.

United States

The largest postal system in the world is the United States Postal Service. In the late 1980s there were more than 780,000 employees working in nearly 40,000 post offices and postal substations throughout the country. The service handles about half of the total volume of the world's mail. The Soviet Union had about 90,000 post offices, but they handled a smaller volume.

The United States Postal Service is an independent agency of the executive branch of the federal government. It was created by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 and went into operation on July 1, 1971. Prior to that date it was named the Post Office Department, and the postmaster general who headed it was a member of the president's Cabinet.

The Postal Service is managed by a board of governors, which selects a postmaster general and deputy postmaster general as chief executive officers. There are five regional postmasters general, each of whom manages all postal activities within a region.

Colonial period. The first postal system in the British colonies of North America was started by the Massachusetts General Court in 1639. Mail brought by ship was deposited in Boston with a tavern owner named Richard Fairbanks. He sent it to its destination and was paid for each piece of mail he delivered. An intercolonial mail service was established in 1672 by Governor Francis Lovelace of New York. He organized a delivery system between New York City and Boston. A post office was opened in Philadelphia by William Penn in 1683, the same year that a post route from Maine to Georgia was laid out. An attempt was made to establish a postal service for all the colonies in 1691, when Andrew Hamilton was appointed postmaster general for North America.

Benjamin Franklin, who was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737, served as a deputy postmaster general for all the colonies from 1753 to 1774. After the start of the American Revolution, he was appointed postmaster general of the colonies. During more than a year of service in 1775-76 he laid the foundations for the United States postal service. He greatly increased the number of post offices, started a packet mail service to Britain, and introduced the use of stagecoaches to carry the mails.

Post Office Department. Under the Constitution Congress was given power to establish post offices. The first president, George Washington, appointed Samuel Osgood of Massachusetts as the first postmaster general of the United States. At that time the post office was a bureau of the Treasury Department. When Osgood took office there were only 76 post offices and less than 2,400 miles (3,900 kilometers) of post roads. The system expanded quickly. By 1812 more than 50,000 miles (80,000 kilometers) of post roads were in use.

In 1829 President Andrew Jackson selected William T. Barry of Kentucky to be postmaster general and made him a member of the Cabinet, but it was not until 1872 that Congress actually established the Post Office Department as a separate division of the executive branch.

The postal system meanwhile had grown with the westward expansion of the country. The discovery of gold in California early in 1848 led to the gold rush and a demand for mail service to the Far West. Mail was sent overland by stagecoach to Monterey, Calif., by way of Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and Santa Fe, N.M. The first overland mail arrived in Los Angeles in May 1848. Between battling Indians and traveling through fierce Rocky Mountain snowstorms, stagecoaches took several weeks to reach the West coast. Faster service was provided by the Pony Express. It was begun in 1860 by a private owner to run from the end of the rail lines in St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif. The route could be covered in about ten days. Riders, who had to weigh under 135 pounds (61 kilograms), changed horses every 10 miles (16 kilometers). The short-lived service was discontinued in 1861, early in the Civil War, only 18 months after it started. It had been made obsolete by the new transcontinental telegraph line.

As the post office expanded during the 19th century, it began to offer more services. The first postage stamps went on sale in New York City on July 1, 1847, seven years after they were introduced in England. Before 1847 the receiver rather than the sender paid the postage. After 1855 patrons could insure valuable mail by registering it.

In 1862 a Missouri postmaster experimented with separating and sorting mail on board a train traveling between Hannibal and St. Joseph. His purpose was to avoid unnecessary delays in mail departures for the West. This was the beginning of the railway post office in the United States. The first official mail train was put into service between Chicago and Clinton, Iowa, on Aug. 28, 1864.

In 1858 street letter boxes were introduced so that people would not have to go to a post office to mail letters or pay the postman a fee to carry them there. Free home delivery began in 1863 in 49 cities, with 440 carriers employed the first year. Prior to that year patrons paid a small fee for delivery of mail to the home.

Rural free delivery (RFD) was started on Oct. 1, 1896, when five routes were put into service in West Virginia. RFD did much to tie the nation together. Village delivery service was not inaugurated until 1912.

The money-order system was put into operation by the post office in 1864 in 139 post offices. Its original purpose was to accommodate soldiers who wanted to send money home. The service was extended to foreign countries in 1867. Postcards were introduced into the postal system in 1873. The rate for sending one was a penny. A postal savings system was established in 1911 as a convenient way for small savers to put money aside. This service eventually made the Post Office Department a major United States savings institution. Deposits declined because of the low interest paid, however, and Congress discontinued postal savings in 1966.

As railroads and steamboats appeared, they were used to carry mail. Many communities, however, did not have access to either form of transportation, especially communities in the West. They were served by star routes, so-called because they were identified by stars on the Post Office Department's lists. On these routes the mail was carried by private contractors instead of postal employees.

Special delivery of mail was first offered in 1885. By paying an extra fee the sender was assured that the mail would be sent out promptly and delivered to its destination by a special messenger. Special handling of mail was introduced 40 years later, in 1925. This service was available only for fourth-class matter.

Postal Service. During colonial times it was government policy to profit from the mail service. As the United States grew, the policy changed to one of rendering service to all parts of the country without undue regard for cost. Deficits soon became common in the operation of the department, as rates charged customers never kept up with costs.

By the end of the 1960s the Post Office Department deficit was exceeding a billion dollars a year. In 1967 Congress enacted rate increases to help reduce the government subsidy. A committee was also appointed to study the possibility of turning the department into a nonprofit government corporation. The commission recommended such a plan in 1968, and Congress created the United States Postal Service two years later. )



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