History of the Post Office
PREFACE
When the Continental Congress named Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General in 1775, the United States was a weak confederation of colonies scattered along the eastern seaboard. The postal system that the Congress created helped bind the new nation together, support the growth of commerce, and ensure a free flow of ideas and information. In the more than two centuries since, the United States and the Postal Service have grown and changed together. Today, the Postal Service fuels the nation's economy and delivers hundreds of millions of messages and billions of dollars in financial transactions each day to eight million businesses and 250 million Americans. The Postal Service is making history, too, as it helps lead the way in making the federal government more businesslike and responsive to customer needs. This is the story of the evolution of the Postal Service and the role it has played in the development of the United States.
UNITED STATES POSTAL SYSTEMS
ON JULY 26, 1775, MEMBERS OF THE SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS, MEETING IN PHILADELPHIA, AGREED " ... THAT A POSTMASTER GENERAL BE APPOINTED FOR THE UNITED STATES, WHO SHALL HOLD HIS OFFICE AT PHILADELPHIA, AND SHALL BE ALLOWED A SALARY OF 1,000 DOLLARS PER ANNUM . . . .)) THAT SIMPLE STATEMENT SIGNALED THE BIRTH OF THE POST OFFICE DEPARTMENT, THE PREDECESSOR OF THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE AND THE SECOND OLDEST DEPARTMENT OR AGENCY OF THE PRESENT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

Table of Contents
UNITED STATES POSTAL SYSTEMS
COLONIAL TIMES

CONTINENTAL CONGRESS
THE POST OFFICE DEPARTMENT
THE POSTAL ROLE IN U.S DEVELOPMENT
PONY EXPRESS
RAILWAY MAIL SERVICE
CONFEDERATE POSTAL SERVICE
FREE CITY DELIVERY
RURAL FREE DELIVERY
PARCEL POST
POSTAL SAVINGS SYSTEM
AIRMAIL
MISSILE MAIL
ZIP CODE
POSTAL REFORM
POSTAL REORGANIZATION ACT
UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE
POSTAL MECHANIZATION/EARLY AUTOMATION
ZIP+4
THE AGE OF AUTOMATION
COMPETITION AND CHANGE
MULE MAIL
RATES
HOW RATES ARE SET

POSTAL RATE COMMISSION
STAMPS
CITIZENS' STAMP ADVISORY COMMITTEE
THE FIRST COMMEMORATIVE STAMPS


COLONIAL TIMES
In early colonial times, correspondents depended on friends, merchants, and Native Americans to carry messages between the colonies. However, most correspondence ran between the colonists and England, their mother country. It was largely to handle this mail that, in 1633, the first official notice of a postal service in the colonies appeared. The General Court of Massachusetts designated Richard Fairbanks' tavern in Boston as the official repository of mail brought from or sent overseas, in line with the practice in England and other nations to use coffee houses and taverns as mail drops. Local authorities operated post routes within the colonies. Then, in 1673, Governor Francis Lovelace of New York set up a monthly post between New York and Boston. The service was of short duration, but the post rider's trail became known as the Old Boston Post Road, part of today's U.S. Route 1. William Penn established Pennsylvania's first post office in 1683. In the South, private messengers, usually slaves, connected the huge plantations; a hogshead of tobacco was the penalty for failing to relay mail to the next plantation. Central postal organization came to the colonies only after 1691 when Thomas Neale received a 21-year grant from the British Crown for a North American postal service. Neale never visited America. Instead, he appointed Governor Andrew Hamilton of New Jersey as his Deputy Postmaster General. Neale's franchise cost him only 80 cents a year but was no bargain; he died heavily in debt, in 1633, after assigning his interests in America to Andrew Hamilton and another Englishman, R. West. In 1707, the British Government bought the rights to the North American postal service from West and the widow of Andrew Hamilton. It then appointed John Hamilton, Andrew's son, as Deputy Postmaster General of America. He served until 1721 when he was succeeded by John Lloyd of Charleston, South Carolina. In 1730, Alexander Spotswood, a former lieutenant governor of Virginia, became Deputy Postmaster General for America. His most notable achievement probably was the appointment of Benjamin Franklin as postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737. Franklin was only 31 years old at the time, the struggling printer and publisher of The Pennsylvania Gazette. Later he would become one of the most popular men of his age. Two other Virginians succeeded Spotswood: Head Lynch in 1733 and Elliot Benger in 1743. When Benger died in 1753, Franklin and William Hunter, postmaster of Williamsburg, Virginia, were appointed by the Crown as Joint Postmaster- General for the colonies. Hunter died in 1761, and John Foxcroft of New York succeeded him, serving until the outbreak of the Revolution. During his time as a Joint Postmaster General for the Crown, Franklin effected many important and lasting improvements in the colonial posts. He immediately began to reorganize the service, setting out on a long tour to inspect post offices in the North and others as far south as Virginia. New surveys were made, milestones were placed on principal roads, and new and shorter routes laid out. For the first time, post riders carried mail at night between Philadelphia and New York, with the travel time shortened by at least half. In 1760, Franklin reported a surplus to the British Postmaster General -- a first for the postal service in North America. When Franklin left office, post roads operated from Maine to Florida and from New York to Canada, and mail between the colonies and the mother country operated on a regular schedule, with posted times. In addition, to regulate post offices and audit accounts, the position of surveyor was created in 1772; this is considered the precursor of today's Postal Inspection Service. By 1774, however, the colonists viewed the royal post office with suspicion. Franklin was dismissed by the Crown for actions sympathetic to the cause of the colonies. Shortly after, William Goddard, a printer and newspaper publisher (whose father had been postmaster of New London, Connecticut, under Franklin) set up a Constitutional Post for inter-colonial mail service. Colonies funded it by subscription, and net revenues were to be used to improve the postal service rather than to be paid back to the subscribers. By 1775, when the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia, Goddard's colonial post was flourishing, and 30 post offices operated between Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Williamsburg.
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CONTINENTAL CONGRESS
After the Boston riots in September 1774, the colonies began to separate from the mother country. A Continental Congress was organized at Philadelphia in May 1775 to establish an independent government. One of the first questions before the delegates was how to convey and deliver the mail. Benjamin Franklin, newly returned from England, was appointed chairman of a Committee of Investigation to establish a postal system. The report of the Committee, providing for the appointment of a postmaster general for the 13 American colonies, was considered by the Continental Congress on July 25 and 26. On July 26, 1775, Franklin was appointed Postmaster General, the first appointed under the Continental Congress; the establishment of the organization that became the United States Postal Service nearly two centuries later traces back to this date. Richard Bache, Franklin's son-in-law, was named Comptroller, and William Goddard was appointed Surveyor. Franklin served until November 7, 1776. America's present Postal Service descends in an unbroken line from the system he planned and placed in operation, and history rightfully accords him major credit for establishing the basis of the postal service that has performed magnificently For the American people. Article IX of the Articles of Confederation , ratified in 1781, gave Congress "The sole and exclusive right and power .. establishing and regulating post offices from one State to another . .. and exacting such postage on papers passing through the same as may be requisite to defray the expenses of the said office . . .." The first three Postmasters General -- Benjamin Franklin, Richard Bache, and Ebenezer Hazard -- were appointed by, and reported to, Congress. Postal laws and regulations were revised and codified in the Ordinance of October 18, 1782.
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THE POST OFFICE DEPARTMENT
Following the adoption of the Constitution in May 1783, the Act of September 22, 1789 (1 Stat. 70), temporarily established a post office and created the Office of the Postmaster General. On September 26, 1783, George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood of Massachusetts as the first Postmaster General under the Constitution. At that time there were 75 post offices and about 2,000 miles of post roads, although as late as 1780 the postal staff consisted only of a Postmaster General, a Secretary/Comptroller, three surveyors, one Inspector of Dead Letters, and 26 post riders. The Postal Service was temporarily continued by the Act of August 4, 1730 (1 Stat. 178), and the Act of March 3, 1731 (1 Stat. 218). The Act of February 20, 1732, made detailed provisions for the Post Office. Subsequent legislation enlarged the duties of the Post Office, strengthened and unified its organization, and provided rules and regulations for its development. Philadelphia was the seat of government and postal headquarters until 1800. When the Post Office moved to Washington, DC, in that year, officials were able to carry all postal records, Furniture, and supplies in two horse-drawn wagons. In 1823, upon the invitation of President Andrew Jackson, William T. Barry of Kentucky became the first Postmaster General to sit as a member of the President's Cabinet. His predecessor, John McLean of Ohio, began referring to the Post Office, or General Post Office as it was sometimes called, as the Post Office Department, but it was not specifically established as an executive department by Congress until June 8, 1872 (17 Stat. 284-4). Around this period, in 1830, an Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations was established as the investigative and inspection branch of the Post Office Department. The head of that office, P. S. Loughborough, is considered the first Chief Postal Inspector.
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The Postal Role In U.S. Development
Between the Revolutionary period and the first World War, United States postal officials applied themselves to improving transportation of the mails. From those early days to the present, the Postal Service has helped develop and subsidize every new mode of transporta- tion in the United States. The postal role was a natural one; apart from postal employees themselves, transportation was the single most important element in mail delivery, literally, the legs of communication. Even when the general public was skeptical or fearful of a new means of transportation, postal officials experimented with inventions that offered potential for moving the mail faster, occasionally suffering embarrassment, ridicule, or even abuse in the process. As mail delivery evolved from foot to horseback, stagecoach, steamboat, railroad, automobile, and airplane, with intermediate and overlapping use of balloons, helicopters, and pneumatic tubes, mail contracts ensured the income necessary to build the great highways, rail lines, and airways that eventually spanned the continent. By the turn of the 19th century, the Post Office Department had purchased a number of stagecoaches for operation on the nation's better post roads -- a post road being any road on which the mail traveled -- and continued to encourage new designs to improve passenger comfort and carry mail more safely. Ten years before waterways were declared post roads in 1823, the Post Office used steamboats to carry mail between post towns where no roads existed. In 1831,when steam-driven engines traveling at the unconscionable speed of 15 miles an hour" were denounced as a "device of Satan to lead immortal souls to hell, railroads began to carry mail for short distances. By 1836, two years before railroads were constituted post roads, the Postal Service had awarded its first mail contract to the railroads. As early as 1896, before many people in the United States were aware of a new mode of transportation that would eventually supplant the horse and buggy, the Post Office Department experimented with the "horseless wagon" in its search for faster and cheaper carriage of the mails. In its Annual Report for 1899, the Department announced that it had tested the practicality of using the automobile to collect mail in Buffalo, New York. In 1901, the Post Office Department entered into its first contract to carry the mail by automobile between the Buffalo Post Office and a postal station in the Pan American Exposition grounds. Although it took 35 minutes to traverse the 4 1/2 miles between the two offices, the Department professed great satisfaction with the contract and prepared for similar service on January 1, 1902, at Minneapolis. From 1901 to 1914, the Post Office performed all of its vehicle service under contract. Then, unhappy with exorbitant rates and frequent frauds uncovered in these accounts, the Department asked for and received approval from Congress to establish the first government-owned motor vehicle service at Washington, DC, on October 19, 1914.
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PONY EXPRESS
In the meantime, in the first half of the 19th century, the population of the United States began to flow steadily into the newly acquired territories of Louisiana, Oregon, and California. Wagon trains inched along the old Santa Fe, Mormon, and Oregon Trails, their passengers often ravaged by ambushes, hunger, disease, and pestilence. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, the pioneer movement quickened, and in that year the Post Office Department awarded a contract to the Pacific Mail Steamship Company to carry mail to California. Under this contract, mail traveled by ship from New York to Panama, moved across Panama by rail, then went on to San Francisco by ship. It was supposed to take three to four weeks to receive a letter from the East, but this goal was seldom achieved. Some overland mail reached California as early as 1848, if erratically, via the military through Fort Leavenworth and Santa Fe. Scheduled overland service for semi-weekly trips began on September 15, 1858, after the Post Office issued a contract to the Overland Mail Company stage line of John Butterfield, whose stages used the 2,800-mile southern route between Tipton, Missouri, and San Francisco. Although the specified running time was 24 days, cross-country mail often rook months. Californians felt their isolation keenly. Los Angeles, for example, learned that California had been admitted to the Union fully six weeks after the fact. Three years later, in 1853, the Los Angeles Star somewhat plaintively asked its readers: "Can somebody tell us what has become of the U. S. mail for this section of the world! Some four weeks since it has arrived here. The mail rider comes and goes regularly enough but the mail bags do not. One time he says the mail is not landed in San Diego; another time there was so much of it the donkey could not bring it, and he sent it to San Pedro on the steamer -- which carried it up to San Francisco. Thus it goes wandering up and down the ocean. . . ." It was abundantly clear that faster transportation was needed to the Pacific. In March 1860, William H. Russell, an American transportation pioneer, advertised in newspapers as follows: "Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." Russell had failed repeatedly to get backing from the Senate Post Office and Post Roads Committee for an express route to carry mail between St. Joseph, Missouri -- the westernmost point reached by the railroad and telegraph -- and California. St. Joseph was the strategic starting point for the direct 2,000-mile central route to the West. Except for a few forts and settlements, however, the route beyond St. Joseph was a vast, unknown land, inhabited primarily by Native Americans. Many people believed transportation across this area on a year-round basis was impossible because of the extreme weather conditions. Russell, however, thought a route was feasible and was ready to organize his own express, with or without a mail contract, to prove it. As a first step, Russell and his two partners, Majors and Waddell, formed the Central Overland California and Pike's Peak Express Company. They built new relay stations and readied existing ones for use. The country was combed for good horses, animals hardy enough to challenge deserts and mountains and to withstand thirst in summer and ice in winter. Riders were recruited hastily but, before being hired, had to swear on a Bible not to cuss, fight, or abuse their animals and to conduct them- selves honestly. Starting on April 3, 1860, the Pony Express ran through parts of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. On an average day, a rider covered 75 to 100 miles. He changed horses at relay stations, set about 10 or 15 miles apart, transferring himself and his mochila (a saddle cover with four pockets or cantinas for mail) to the new mount, all in one leap. The first mail by Pony Express via the central route from St. Joseph to Sacramento took 10 1/2 days, cutting the Overland Stage time via the southern route by more than half. The fastest delivery was in March 1861,when President Abraham Lincoln's inaugural address was carried in 7 days and 17 hours. From April 1860 through June 1861, the Pony Express operated as a private enterprise. From July 1, 1861, it operated under contract as a mail route until October 24, 1861, when the transcontinental telegraph line was completed, and the Pony Express became a legend.
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RAILWAY MAIL SERVICE
At least three decades before the Pony Express galloped into postal history, the iron horse" made a formal appearance. In August 1823, 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 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 103(, 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 Sr. 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 railway mail service began, mostly letter mail was sorted on the cars, which were not equipped to distribute other kinds of mail. By about 1863, 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 130 trains carried mail; by 1970, the railroads carried virtually no First-Class Mail. On April 30, 1371, the Post Office Department terminated seven of the eight remaining routes. The lone, surviving railway post office ran between New York and Washington, D.C., and made its last run on June30,1377.
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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.
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FREE CITY DELIVERY
In the early part of the 13th 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 1830, 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.
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Rural Free Delivery
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. 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 night in the United States occurred on February 15, 1926. As commercial airlines rook 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."
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ZIP Code
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 (Zoning Improvement Plan) Code. 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 pre-eminence. 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.
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Postal Reform
By the mid-1960s, the Post Office Department was in deep trouble. Years of financial neglect and fragmented control had finally impaired its ability to function in terms of facilities, equipment, wages, and management efficiency, as well as in terms of the highly subsidized rates that existed on all classes of mail -- rates that for many years bore little relation to costs. In 1966, the Chicago Post Office ground to a virtual stop under a logjam of mail. At a hearing in 1967, Oklahoma Congressman Tom Steed, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury-Post Office, stated the case for postal reform while questioning Postmaster General Lawrence O'Brien. The Congressman asked: "Would this be a fair summary -- that at the present time, as manager of the Post Office Department, you have no control over your workload; over the rates or revenue; over the pay rates of the employees that you employ; you have very little control over the conditions of the service of these employees; you have virtually no control, by the nature of it, of your physical facilities; and you have only a limited control, at best, over the transportation facilities that you are compelled to use -- all of which adds up to a staggering amount of no control in terms of the duties you have to perform?" What Congressman Steed did not articulate was that this total lack of control by the Postmaster General meant that, in most cases and except for the ZIP Code, the mail was being handled virtually in the same way it had been handled 100 years earlier, despite skyrocketing mail volume.
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Postal Reorganization Act
In May 1969, four months after he became a member of President Richard Nixon's Cabinet, Postmaster General Winton M. Blount proposed a basic reorganization of the Post Office Department. The President asked Congress to pass the Postal Service Act of 1963, calling for removal of the Postmaster General from the Cabinet and creation of a self-supporting postal corporation wholly owned by the federal government. On March 12, 1970, after extensive hearings, the House Post Office Committee reported a compromise measure containing postal reform provisions similar to those proposed by the President and providing a pay increase for postal employees, but postal employees called it "too little, too late." Six days later, a postal work stoppage began and ultimately involved approximately 152,000 postal employees in 671 locations. The Postmaster General agreed to negotiate with the seven exclusively recognized unions upon the employees' return to work. Consequently, the employees went back on the job, and negotiations began on March 25. On April 2, the negotiating parties announced they had agreed to recommend to Congress a general wage increase of six percent, retroactive to December 27, 1963, for all federal employees, plus an additional eight percent increase for postal workers that would take effect if the parties could agree on legislation reorganizing the Post Office Department and if the legislation could be enacted. Management and the unions agreed to develop jointly a reorganization plan and, on April 16, 1970, announced agreement on such a plan. The agreement was embodied in a legislative proposal and sent to Congress by President Nixon. The proposal included four basic provisions enunciated earlier by the Postmaster General as necessary to reform the postal system: adequate financing authority; removal of the system from politics, assuring continuity of management; collective bargaining between postal management and employees; and the Postal Service's setting rates after an opportunity for hearings before an impartial rate panel. In addition to the eight percent pay increase for postal employees, the bill provided for negotiation of a new wage schedule so employees could reach the maximum step in grade after no more than 8 years, instead of 21 years. On August 3, by a roll call vote of 57 to 7, the Senate approved the conference report on House Resolution 17070, a modified version of the legislation proposed by the President; three days later, the House of Representatives approved it. On August 12, 1970, President Nixon signed into law the most comprehensive postal legislation since the founding of the Republic, Public Law 91-375.
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United States Postal Service
The Post Office Department was transformed into the United States Postal Service, an independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States. The mission of the Postal Service remained the same, as stated in Title 39 of the U. S. Code: "The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The new Postal Service officially began operations on July 1, 1971. At that time, the Postmaster General left the Cabinet, and the Postal Service received:

  1. Operational authority vested in a Board of Governors and Postal Service executive management, rather than in Congress.
  2. Authority to issue public bonds to finance postal buildings and mechanization.
  3. Direct collective bargaining between representatives of management and the unions.
  4. A new rate-setting procedure, built around an independent Postal Rate Commission.
Title 39, the Postal Reorganization Act, also vested direction of the powers of the Postal Service in an 11 member Board of Governors. Nine members (the Governors) are appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. They serve staggered nine-year terms, and no more than five Governors may belong to the same political party. Governors are chosen to represent the public interest generally, may not represent specific interests using the Postal Service, and may be removed only for cause. The nine Governors appoint the Postmaster General, who is the chief executive officer of the Postal Service and who serves at their discretion, and these 10 people select the Deputy Postmaster General. All are voting members of the Board of Governors, which directs the exercise of the powers of the Postal Service, reviews its practices and policies, and directs and controls its expenditures. The nine Governors alone approve rates and classification changes following a recommendation by the Postal Rate Commission. The entire, 11 member Board determines when rates and classification changes become effective. The Postmaster General appoints all officers of the Postal Service. The Postal Reorganization Act also changed the United States postal system in other ways:
  • Finances and rates: It established an independent Postal Rate Commission of five members, appointed by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, to recommend postal rates and classifications for adoption by the Governors. It authorized the Postal Service to borrow money from the general public and phased out the general public service subsidy, which the Postal Service ended earlier than required in 1983. It also authorized appropriations to reimburse the Postal Service for carrying congressionally established categories of free and reduced-rate mail and required that rates for each class of mail cover direct and indirect costs attributable to that class, plus a proportion of institutional costs. Personnel: It established a postal career service, a framework that permits terms and conditions of employment to be set through collective bargaining, and prohibited political recommendations for appointments within the Postal Service. The Civil Service retirement program was retained.
  • Labor-management relations: The Act authorized collective bargaining on wages and working conditions under laws applying to private industry and provided for binding arbitration if an impasse persists 180 days after the start of bargaining. The ban on strikes, applicable to all federal employees, remained. It authorized the National Labor Relations Board to determine proper bargaining units, supervise representative elections, and enforce the unfair labor practices provisions found in the law. It also protected the rights of all employees to form, join, or assist a labor organization, or to refrain from such activity.
  • Transportation: It extended laws governing common and contract carriage of mail by railroads to motor common carriers and authorized negotiated contracts with star route operators and motor common carriers.
  • Pay: The Act established the policy that the Postal Service would maintain compensation and benefits for its officers and employees on a standard of comparability to that offered by the private sector for similar levels of work. However, the Act mandated that no officer or employee shall be paid compensation at a rate in excess of the rate for Level I (Cabinet Officer level) of the Executive Schedule. Despite the manifold accomplishments of the Postal Service since Reorganization, the mechanization of operations and the ZIP Code had apparently reached their peak in the 1970s, and more was needed to cope with increasing mail volume. In 1978, the Postal Service decided to develop an expanded code of four add-on digits that would speed processing when coupled with new mechanization capable of sorting mail to small geographic segments, such as a city block or single building.

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Postal Mechanization/Early Automation
At the turn of the 20th century, in spite of a burgeoning mail volume and limited work space, the Post Office Department relied entirely on antiquated mailhandling operations, such as the "pigeonhole" method of letter sorting, a holdover from colonial times. Although crude sorting machines were proposed by inventors of canceling machines in the early 1900s and tested in the 1920s, the Great Depression and World War-II postponed widespread development of mechanization until the mid-1950s. The Post Office Department then took major steps toward mechanization by initiating projects and awarding contracts for the development of a number of machines and technologies, including letter sorters, facercancelers, automatic address readers, parcel sorters, advanced tray conveyors, flat sorters, and letter mail coding and stamp-tagging techniques. As a result of this research, the first semi-automatic parcel sorting machine was introduced in Baltimore in 1956. A year later, a foreign-built multiposition letter sorting machine (MPLSM), the Transorma, was installed and tested for the first time in an American post office. The first American built letter sorter, based on a 1,000-pocket machine originally adapted from a foreign design, was developed during the late 1950. The first production contract was awarded to the Burroughs Corporation for 10 of these machines. The machine was successfully tested in Detroit in 1953 and eventually became the backbone of letter- sorting operations during the 1960s and 70s. In 1959, the Post Office Department also awarded its first volume order for mechanization to Pitney-Bowes, Inc., for the production of 75 Mark II facer-cancelers. In 1984, more than 1,000 Mark II and M-36 facer-cancelers were in operation. By 1992, these machines were outdated and began to be replaced by advanced facer-canceler systems (AFCS) purchased from ElectroCom L.P. The AFCSs process more than 30,000 pieces of mail per hour, twice as fast as the M-36 fecer-cancelers. AFCSs are more sophisticated too: they electronically identify and separate prebarcoded mail, handwritten letters, and machine-imprinted pieces for faster processing through automation. The Department's accelerated mechanization program began in the late 1960s and consisted of semi-automatic equipment such as the MPLSM, the single position letter sorting machine (SPLSM), and the facer-canceler. In November 1965, the Department put a high-speed optical character reader (OCR) into service in the Detroit Post Office. This first-generation machine was connected to an MPLSM frame and read the city/state/ZIP Code line of typed addresses to sort letters to one of the 277 pockets. Each subsequent handling of the letter required that the address be read again. Mechanization increased productivity. By the mid-1970s, however, it was clear that cheaper, more efficient methods and equipment were needed if the Postal Service was to offset rising costs associated with growing mail volume. To reduce the number of mailpiece handlings, the Postal Service began to develop an expanded ZIP Code in 1978. The new code required new equipment. The Postal Service entered the age of automation in September 1982 when the first computer-driven single-line optical character reader was installed in Los Angeles. The equipment required a letter to be read only once at the originating office by an OCR, which printed a barcode on the envelope. At the destinating office, a less expensive barcode sorter (BCS) sorted the mail by reading its barcode. Following the introduction of the ZIP+4 code in 1983, the first delivery phase of the new OCR channel sorters and BCSs was completed by mid-1984.
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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.
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The Age of Automation
Today, a new generation of equipment is changing the way mail flows and improving productivity. Multiline optical character readers (MLOCRs) read the entire address on an envelope, spray a barcode on the envelope, then sort it at the rate of more than nine per second. Wide area barcode readers can read a barcode virtually anywhere on a letter. Advanced facer-canceler systems face, cancel, and sort mail. The remote barcoding system (RBCS) provides barcoding for handwritten script mail or mail that cannot be read by OCRs. The ZIP+4 code reduced the number of times that a piece of mail had to be handled. It also shortened the time carriers spent casing their mail (placing it in order of delivery). First tested in 1991, the delivery point barcode, which represents an 11 digit ZIP Code, will virtually eliminate the need for carriers to case mail because mail will arrive in trays at the delivery post office sorted in "walk sequence." The MLOCR reads the barcode and address, then constructs a unique 11 digit delivery point barcode using the Postal Service's National Directory and the last two digits of the street address. Then barcode sorters put the mail in sequence for delivery. Until now, most of the emphasis in automation has been processing machine imprinted mail. Still, letter mail with addresses that were handwritten or not machine-readable had to be processed manually or by a letter sorting machine. The RBCS now allows most of this mail to receive delivery point barcodes without being removed from the automated mailstream. When MLOCRs cannot read an address, they spray an identifying code on the back of the envelope. Operators at a data entry site, which may be far from the mail processing facility, read the address on a video screen and key a code that allows a computer to determine the ZIP Code information. The results are transmitted back to a modified barcode sorter, which pulls the 11-digit ZIP Code information for that item, and sprays the correct barcode on the front of the envelope. The mail then can be sorted within the automated mailstream. Letter mail represents approximately 70 percent of the Postal Service's total mail volume, so development of letter mail equipment has received the most attention. In addition to letter-mail processing, Postal Service is taking steps to automate mail-forwarding systems and the processing of flats and parcels. The Postal Service also has accelerated installation of automated equipment in lobbies to serve customers better. "The backbone of this effort is the integrated retail terminal (IRT), a computer that incorporates an electronic scale. It provides information to customers during a transaction and simplifies postal accounting by consolidating data. Postage validation imprinters have been attached to the IRTs to produce a self-sticking postage label that has a barcode for automated processing.
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the Descent into Grand Canyon,
1970 MULE MAIL HIGH TECH, THEN LOW TREK

The sign on the only cafe in town reads "No Fries 'Til Mail." Life in the community of Supai, Arizona, literally survives on its mail -- and eats more mail than it reads. Arguably the most remote mail route in the country, the Supai route is the last mule train delivery in the United States. The route brings everything from food to furniture to the tiny Havasupai Indian Reservation, consisting of 525 tribal members who live deep below the south rim of the Grand Canyon. The only way in and out of Supai is an eight-mile trail on foot, mule, or horseback. The first two miles of the trail consist of a dizzying series of switchbacks that careen along the red rock cliffs of the Grand Canyon's shale formation. Helicopters and air drops are impractical here, so the mule train makes the three- to five-hour trip five days a week, even through wind and rain. During a typical week, more than a ton of mail is sent via the mules, with each animal carrying a cargo of 200 pounds.
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Competition and Change
Despite improved technology, the Postal Service faced mounting financial and competitive pressures. Following a decade of prosperity in the 1980s that saw a dramatic increase in mail volume, the nation entered a period of slower economic growth in the 1990s. Bankruptcies, consolidations, and a general restructuring of the marketplace reduced the flow of business mail. In 1991, overall mail volume dropped for the first time in 15 years. The following year, volume rose only slightly, and the Postal Service narrowly avoided the first back-to-back declines in mail volume since the Great Depression. Competition grew for every postal product. The rise of fax machines, electronic communications, and other technologies offered alternatives for conveying bills, statements, and personal messages. Entrepreneurs and publishing companies set up alternate delivery networks in an attempt to hold down the costs of delivering magazines and newspapers. Many third-class mailers, finding their mailing budgets reduced and their postage rates increased higher than expected, began shifting some of their expenditures to other forms of advertising, including cable television and telemarketing. Private companies continued to dominate the market for the urgent delivery of mail and packages. To become more competitive, the Postal Service began to change and restructure. In 1990, the Postal Service awarded two contracts to private firms that now independently measure First-Class Mail service and customer satisfaction. The Postal Service also began working more closely with customers to identify ways to better meet their needs and expanded customer conveniences such as stamps on consignment. With the help of business mailers, the Postal Service continued support for rates reflecting customer work-sharing features, many tied to automation, to give customers more flexibility. At the same time, the Postal Service began implementing Customer Advisory Councils, groups of citizens who volunteered to work with local postal management on postal issues of interest to the community. By the summer of 1993, 500 Advisory Councils were in place. In the summer of 1992, under the leadership of newly appointed Postmaster General Marvin Runyon, the Postal Service intensified its drive for competitiveness. After consulting with mailers, the Governors of the Postal Service, postal employees and their representatives, and Congress, Runyon set a 120-day agenda to reduce bureaucracy and overhead, to improve service and customer satisfaction, and to stabilize postage rates. To help accomplish these goals, the Postal Service created a new organizational structure, starting at the top. The Postal Service reduced the officer corps by nearly one-half, eliminated layers of management to speed decision-making, and trimmed overhead positions by nearly one quarter, or 30,000 positions. By offering early-out retirements and other incentives, the Postal Service reduced overhead without layoffs or furloughs. Throughout the country, the five regions and 73 field divisions were replaced by 10 areas, each with a manager for Customer Services and a manager for Processing and Distribution. At the local level, 85 Customer Services districts and 350 processing and distribution plants were established, and a marketing and sales office was set up in each area. The new structure allowed postal managers to focus their expertise, improved communications up and down the line, and empowered employees to meet the needs of their customers. The Postal Service also took steps to improve service in 1993. It invested in service improvements in the processing and delivery of mail at every major postal facility, expanded retail hours, and developed a more user-friendly Domestic Mail Manual. In cooperation with business customers, the Postal Service began to develop new services to meet specific mailer needs and to overhaul and simplify its complex rate structure. In 1993, it awarded contracts for two additional external measurement systems, one to survey the satisfaction levels of business mailers, the other to track service performance of third class mail. Postal finances also improved. The restructuring eliminated some programs, cut costs, brought in new business, and reduced the Postal Service's projected deficit of more than $2 billion. This put the organization in a better position to try to hold rates steady, which means that rates will have remained stable for four years for the first time since the Postal Service began operations in July 1971. Furthermore, the independent measurement surveys already in place indicated that service was as good or better than ever since the restructuring. Despite many challenges, the Postal Service plans to draw on its diverse strengths to become a model for government, a force to help American businesses be more competitive, and a more effective communications system that binds the nation together.
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RATES - How Rates Are Set
The Board of Governors of the Postal Service proposes new rates to the Postal Rate Commission (PRC). This proposal comes in the form of a formal request accompanied by testimonies and analyses explaining the need for a rate increase and how the various rate proposals were developed. The PRC has ten months in which to render an opinion and a recommended decision to the Governors. During that ten-month span, the PRC conducts open hearings. In this process: The Postal Service answers questions from various interested parties, such as customers, competitors, and consumer advocates, about the proposed rates. The interested parties critique the Postal Service's rate proposals and offer their own alternatives. If the PRC does not give a recommended decision to the Postal Service after ten months, the Postal Service may implement the proposed rates temporarily. The Governors have several options after they receive the PRC's recommended decision. They may accept the recommended decision and, with the other two members of the Board, order new rates into effect on a specific date. They may reject the PRC's recommended decision and return it to the PRC for reconsideration. Current rates stay in effect. They may allow the recommended decision under protest; acting with the other members of the Board, order the new rates into effect on a specific date; and return the decision to the PRC for reconsideration or appeal the decision to the courts. Finally, the Governors can modify the Commission's second or reconsidered decision by unanimous vote if they determine that the recommended rates yield insufficient revenue.
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Postal Rate Commission
The Postal Rate Commission is a five-member independent agency created by the Postal Reorganization Act of August 12, 1970, as amended by the Postal Reorganization Act Amendment of 1976 (90 Stat. 1303), approved September 24, 1976. The Postal Rate Commission acts upon requests from the Postal Service or in response to complaints filed by interested parties. It's major responsibilities are to submit recommended decisions to the Postal Service on postage rates and fees and mail classifications; issue advisory opinions to the Postal Service on proposed nationwide changes in postal services; submit recommendations for changes in the mail classification schedule; and receive, study, and issue recommended decisions and reports to the Postal Service on complaints from the mailing public about rates, classifications, services, and the closing or consolidation of small post offices.
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STAMPS Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee
The Postal Service is proud of its role in portraying the American experience to a world audience through postage stamps and postal stationary. Almost all subjects chosen to appear on United Stares stamps and postal stationery are suggested by the public, which submits proposals on thousands of different topics. Established in 1957 to provide the Postal Service with a "breadth of judgment and depth of experience in various areas that influence subject matter, character, and beauty of postage stamps," the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee has the imposing task of evaluating the merits of each proposal. The Committee's primary goal is to select subjects that are both interesting and educational. For recommendation to the Postmaster General, who decides which stamps will be issued. Besides recommending 25 to 40 new subjects for commemorative stamps each year, the Committee also recommends subjects for the extensive line of regular stamps. When recommending subjects, the Committee thinks of stamp collectors as well as all citizens and looks for stamp subjects that will stand the test of time, be consistent with public sentiment, and have broad national appeal. Committee members are appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the Postmaster General. Committee membership ranges from 12 to 15 members, who have a wide range of educational, artistic, historical, and professional expertise. Proposals are submitted at least three years before the proposed date of issue to allow sufficient time for consideration and design production, if approved. The members also review and provide guidance on artwork and designs for stamps.
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THE FIRST COMMEMORATIVE STAMPS
Postmaster General John Wanamaker stirred up quite a commotion back in 1893 when he issued the nation's first commemorative postage stamps. He was rebuked by a congressional joint resolution that protested the "unnecessary stamps. Wanamaker, an astute businessman, defended his actions by saying that the commemorative stamps could become money-makers. History proved him right. The controversial first commemorative stamps were the Columbian Exposition Issue. Printed by the American Bank Note Company, the stamps were issued to commemorate the World Columbian Exposition held in Chicago, Illinois, from May 1 to October 30, 1893. The stamps celebrated the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's voyage to the New World. The series consisted of 15 stamps with face values ranging from one cent to five dollars. Each bore the dates 1492 and 1892. Postmaster General Wanamaker added a 16th, eight-cent stamp to the series when the fee for registering a letter was reduced from 10 cents. The stamps were immensely popular with collectors and customers, but critics denounced them. The designs were based on paintings by various artists who visualized Columbus differently. The one-cent Columbian showed Columbus clean-shaven, spying land from aboard his ship. The two-cent, taken from the Landing of Columbus painting in the Rotunda of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., showed him landing, presumably a few hours later, with a full beard. These discrepancies were quickly pointed out. Even the denominations of the stamps were condemned. Because First-Class postage was only two cents per ounce and only four pounds could be mailed, the Chicago Tribune pointed out that even with the addition of the eight-cent stamp for registration fees, the most that could be spent on anything mailed First-Class was $1.36. This made the two-, three-, four-, and five-dollar Columbian stamps useless for mailing. Further, the only way to get the full value for five five-dollar Columbian would be to mail a 62-pound, eight-ounce package of books at the book-rate class of postage. Wanamaker replied that regular stamps also were available and that nobody had to buy the Columbians. Further, some people did mail packages of books abroad using the First-Class stamps. To show his confidence in the stamps, Postmaster General Wanamaker spent $10,000 of his own money to buy 5,000 of the two-dollar stamps and put them in his safe as an investment. The stamps, still in the safe when Wanamaker died in 1926, were valued at $4.50 each. In spite of the criticism, the new Columbian stamps were a sensation. Hundreds of people stood in line at the Columbian Exposition and elsewhere to buy the stamps. Two billion commemorative Columbian stamps were sold for 40 million dollars and were credited as a factor in the Exposition's success.
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