media mail

United States Postal Service

The United States Postal Service (USPS) is an independent establishment of the executive branch of the United States government (see ) responsible for providing postal service in the US. Within the United States, it is ordinarily referred to as the Post Office, Postal Service, U.S. Mail, or USPS.


The first postal service in America arose in February of 1692 when a grant from King William and Queen Mary empowered Thomas Neale "to erect, settle and establish within the chief parts of their majesties' colonies and plantations in America, an office or offices for the receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years."

The United States Post Office (USPO) was created in Philadelphia under Benjamin Franklin on July 26, 1775 by decree of the Second Continental Congress. Based on the Postal Clause in Article One of the United States Constitution, empowering Congress "To establish post offices and post roads," it became the Post Office Department (USPOD) in 1792. It was part of the Presidential cabinet and the Postmaster General was the last person in the United States presidential line of succession. In 1971, the department was reorganized as a quasi-independent agency of the federal government and acquired its present name. The Postmaster General is no longer in the presidential line of succession.

The United States Post Office Department was enlarged during the tenure of President Andrew Jackson. As the Post Office expanded, difficulties were experienced due to a lack of employees and transportation. The Post Office's employees at that time were still subject to the so-called 'spoils' system, where faithful political supporters of the executive branch were appointed to positions in the post office and other government agencies as a reward for their patronage. These appointees rarely had prior experience in postal service and mail delivery. This system of political patronage was replaced in 1883 after passage of the Pendleton Act (Civil Service Reform Act).

Once it became clear that the postal system in the United States needed to expand across the entire country, the use of the railroad to transport the mail was instituted in 1832. Railroad companies greatly expanded mail transport service after 1862, and the Railway Mail Service was inaugurated in 1869. Rail cars designed from the start to sort and distribute mail while rolling were soon introduced. RMS employees sorted mail 'on the fly' during the journey, and became some of the most skilled workers in the postal service. An RMS sorter had to be able to separate the mail quickly into compartments based on its final destination, before the first destination arrived, and work at the rate of 600 pieces of mail an hour. They were tested regularly for speed and accuracy. The advent of rural free delivery in the U.S. in 1896 and the inauguration of parcel post service in 1913 greatly increased the volume of mail shipped nationwide, and motivated the development of more efficient postal transportation systems.

On August 12, 1918, the Post Office Department took over air mail service from the U.S. Army Air Service (USAAS). Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger appointed Benjamin B. Lipsner to head the civilian-operated Air Mail Service. One of Lipsner's first acts was to hire four pilots, each with at least 1,000 hours flying experience, paying them an average of $4,000 per year. The Post Office Department used mostly World War I military surplus de Havilland DH-4 aircraft. During 1918, the Post Office hired an additional 36 pilots. In its first year of operation, the Post Office completed 1,208 airmail flights with 90 forced landings. Of those, 53 were due to weather and 37 to engine failure. By 1920, the Air Mail service had delivered 49 million letters.

The Post Office was one of the first government departments to regulate obscene materials on a national basis. When the U.S. Congress passed the Comstock laws of 1873, it became illegal to send through the U.S. mail any material considered obscene, indecent or which promoted abortion issues, contraception, or alcohol consumption.

The Postal Reorganization Act signed by President Richard Nixon on August 12, 1970, replaced the cabinet-level Post Office Department with the independent United States Postal Service. The Act took effect on July 1, 1971.

The USPS Today

The United States Postal Service is the currently third-largest employer in the United States, after the United States Department of Defense and Wal-Mart. The USPS operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with an estimated 260,000 vehicles, the majority of which are the easily identified Chevrolet/Grumman LLV (Long-Life Vehicle), and the newer Ford/Utilimaster FFV (Flex-Fuel Vehicle), originally also referred to as the "CRV" (Carrier Route Vehicle), as shown in the pictures below. In an interview on NPR, a USPS official stated that for every penny increase in the national average price of gasoline, the USPS spends an extra $8 million to fuel its fleet. This implies that the fleet requires some 800 million gallons of fuel per year, and consumes an estimated fuel budget of $3.2 billion, were the national gasoline price to average $4.00. Some rural mail carriers use personal vehicles. Standard postal-owned vehicles do not have license plates. These vehicles are identified by a seven digit number displayed on the front and rear.

Competition from e-mail and private operations such as United Parcel Service, FedEx, and DHL has forced USPS to adjust its business strategy and to modernize its products and services.

The Department of Defense and the USPS jointly operate a postal system to deliver mail for the military; this is known as the Army Post Office (for Army and Air Force postal facilities) and Fleet Post Office (for Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard postal facilities).

Governance and organization

The Board of Governors of the United States Postal Service sets policy, procedure, and postal rates for services rendered, and has a similar role to a corporate board of directors. Of the eleven members of the Board, nine are appointed by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate (see ). The nine appointed members then select the United States Postmaster General, who serves as the board's tenth member, and who oversees the day to day activities of the service as Chief Executive Officer (see ). The ten-member board then nominates a Deputy Postmaster General, who acts as Chief Operating Officer, to the eleventh and last remaining open seat.

The USPS is often mistaken for a government-owned corporation (e.g., Amtrak), but as noted above is legally defined as an "independent establishment of the executive branch of the Government of the United States," as it is wholly owned by the government and controlled by the Presidential appointees and the Postmaster General. As a quasi-governmental agency, it has many special privileges, including sovereign immunity, eminent domain powers, powers to negotiate postal treaties with foreign nations, and an exclusive legal right to deliver first-class and third-class mail. Indeed, in 2004, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the USPS was not a government-owned corporation and therefore could not be sued under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

Statutory monopoly

The right of the United States government to engage in postal services is established by the Postal Clause (Article I, Section 8, Clause 7) of the Constitution. The USPS holds a statutory monopoly on non-urgent First Class Mail, outbound U.S. international letters as well the exclusive right to put mail in private mailboxes, as described in the Private Express Statutes. According to Katy Lanza, from the Government Accountability Office, "The monopoly was created by Congress as a revenue protection measure for the Postal Service’s predecessor to enable it to fulfill its mission. It is to prevent private competitors from engaging in an activity known as “cream-skimming,” i.e., offering service on low-cost routes at prices below those of the Postal Service while leaving the Service with high-cost routes." The law that prohibits anyone except the USPS from placing mail in a private mailbox was also passed for the purpose of preventing loss of revenue to the post office. Besides the prevention of revenue loss, the 1934 legislation was passed for another reason, the second being, "Congress sought to decrease the quantity of extraneous matter being placed in mail boxes". Until 1979, competition in all letter mail was prohibited. However, faced with imminent legislation to exempt "urgent" letter mail from the monopoly, the Post Office decided on its own to exempt "extremely urgent" letters. Competition in "extremely urgent letters" is allowed under certain conditions: The private carrier must charge at least $3 or twice the U.S. postage, whichever is greater (other stipulations, such as maximum delivery time, apply as well); or, alternatively, it may be delivered for free. This is where carriers such as FedEx compete by offering overnight delivery, as well as where bicycle messengers compete for intracity mail. However, the private carrier of the urgent letters must not use the standardized mailboxes marked "U.S. Mail." Hence, private carriers of urgent letters must either deliver packages directly to the recipient, leave them in the open near the recipient's front door, or place them in a special box dedicated solely to that carrier (a technique commonly used by small courier and messenger services). The United States is the only country that has such a mailbox monopoly according to the American Enterprise Institute.

Carriers, as well as mailers, are supposed to comply with the laws against using a competitor to mail an overnight letter that is not extremely urgent. A violation can occur at a home or a business where letters originate. But, since nonurgent letters can be mailed covertly through private carriers USPS has found it difficult to enforce. However, companies such as Bellsouth and Equifax have been investigated and fined for mailing nonurgent material through private overnight delivery services. Private carriers of overnight mail say that they do not inspect the mail of customers to determine if the content is extremely urgent and suggest that the responsibility for ensuring that rests with the mailers themselves. Carriers do, however, have certain responsibilities under the regulations.

Since the mail monopoly only applies to nonurgent letter mail, the USPS is losing a significant amount of business to their competitors in other services, who offer lower rates. For example, FedEx and others have captured 90% of the overnight mail business.

During the 1830s and 1840s several entrepreneurs started their own letter mail delivery companies, with the intent of ending the postal monopoly. These included Lysander Spooner and his American Letter Mail Company, Henry Wells (of Wells Fargo) and Alvin Adams. To begin with, they were financially successful. However they were either forced out of business by several postal reforms leading to lower postage rates in the 1840s and 1850s as well as Congressional legislation enforcing the mail monopoly, or in the case of the Pony Express, became mail contractors. The average price charged by the Post Office to mail a letter in 1845 was 14.5 cents, whereas the private postal systems generally charged between 5 and 6.5 cents. By 1851, the Post Office had cut their rates to 3 cents, which has been cited as the main factor in driving the private mail companies out of business. Another consequence of the rate cut was that by 1860, the formerly self-supporting Post Office depended on the Treasury for half its income.

Arguments against mail monopoly

Many of those on the political right who advocate laissez-faire capitalism have criticized the mail monopoly. Nobel Prize winning libertarian economist Milton Friedman said, "there is no way to justify our present public monopoly of the post office. It may be argued that the carrying of mail is a technical monopoly and that a government monopoly is the least of evils. Along these lines, one could perhaps justify a government post office, but not the present law, which makes it illegal for anybody else to carry the mail. If the delivery of mail is a technical monopoly, no one else will be able to succeed in competition with the government. If it is not, there is no reason why the government should be engaged in it. In the conservative National Review, Sam Ryan, a senior fellow at the libertarian Lexington Institute, argued that the monopoly is the cause behind rising prices, as the post office is able to raise prices in order to off-set any increase in expenditure. Moreover, Ryan argues that the Postal Service has not taken advantage of economies of scale, citing a study by the Postal Rate Commission which concluded that "The doubling of overall volume coupled with scale economies should have resulted in the average price of the stamp dropping in real terms. Jim Kelly of UPS says that the Post Office has an unfair advantage and should be subject to the same rules as private carriers, such as paying taxes, following state and local regulations, and being subject to antitrust laws.

Response by the Postal Service

The Postal Service argues that the monopoly is necessary to fulfill its mission "to provide for an economically sound postal system that could afford to deliver letters between any two locations, however remote." Postal Service officials say that if private carriers are allowed to compete, then the Post Office would not be able to deliver mail to every American at the same price. Moreover, Postmaster General Marvin Runyon said, when exiting his position in 1998, that he believes that the monopoly will become increasingly irrelevant, "not through legislative fiat, not through the power of PAC dollars. But through the natural forces of marketplace competition." He cites the rise of electronic mail.

Postal Service insignia

From 1782 to 1837, the Post Office Department used the Roman god Mercury as its symbol. This was replaced in 1837 with a running pony, which was itself superseded by an eagle in 1970. In the 1990s, the eagle was redesigned again so that it was just the head.

Law enforcement agencies

U.S. Postal Inspection Service

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is one of the oldest law enforcement agencies in the U.S. It was founded by Benjamin Franklin.

The mission of the USPIS is to protect the U.S. Postal Service, its employees and its customers from criminal attack, and protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse.

U.S. law provides for the protection of mail. Postal Inspectors enforce over 200 federal laws in investigations of crimes that may adversely affect or fraudulently use the U.S. Mail, the postal system or postal employees. The USPIS is a major federal law enforcement agency.

The USPIS has the power to enforce the law by conducting search and seizure raids on entities they suspect of sending non-urgent mail through overnight delivery competitors. For example: according to the American Enterprise Institute, a private think tank, the USPIS raided Equifax offices in 1993 to ascertain if the mail they were sending through Federal Express was truly "extremely urgent." It was found that the mail was not, and Equifax was fined $30,000.

USPS Office of Inspector General

The USPS Office of Inspector General (OIG) of the U.S. Postal Service was authorized by law in 1996. Prior to the 1996 legislation, the Postal Inspection Service performed the duties of the OIG. The Inspector General, who is independent of postal management, is appointed by and reports directly to the nine Presidential appointed Governors of the Postal Service.

The primary purpose of the OIG is to prevent, detect and report fraud, waste and program abuse, and promote efficiency in the operations of the Postal Service. The OIG has "oversight" responsibility for all activities of the Postal Inspection Service.

Types of postal facilities

Although its customer service centers are called post offices in regular speech, the USPS recognizes several types of postal facilities, including the following:

  • A main post office (formerly known as a general post office), which is the primary postal facility in a community.
  • A station or post office station, a postal facility that is not the main post office, but that is within the corporate limits of the community.
  • A branch or post office branch, a postal facility that is not the main post office and that is outside the corporate limits of the community.
  • A classified unit, a station or branch operated by USPS employees in a facility owned or leased by the USPS.
  • A contract postal unit (or CPU), a station or branch operated by a contractor, typically in a store or other place of business.
  • A community post office (or CPO), a contract postal unit providing services in a small community in which other types of post office facilities have been discontinued.
  • A finance unit, a station or branch that provides window services and accepts mail, but does not provide delivery.
  • A processing and distribution center (P&DC, or processing and distribution facility, formerly known as a General Mail Facility), a central mail facility that processes and dispatches incoming and outgoing mail to and from a designated service area.
  • A sectional center facility (SCF), a P&DC for a designated geographical area defined by one or more three-digit ZIP code prefixes.
  • A bulk mail center (BMC), a central mail facility that processes bulk rate parcels as the hub in a hub and spoke network.
  • An auxiliary sorting facility (ASF), a central mail facility that processes bulk rate parcels as spokes in a hub and spoke network.
  • A remote encoding center (REC), a facility at which clerks receive images of problem mail pieces (those with hard-to-read addresses, etc.) via secure Internet-type feeds and manually type the addresses they can decipher, using a special encoding protocol. The images are then sprayed with the correct addresses or are sorted for further handling according to the instructions given via encoding. The total number of RECs is down from 55 in 1998 to just 8 centers in April, 2008. More closures will occur as computer software becomes more able to read most addresses, but a few centers are expected to remain open (see Evolutionary Network Development below).

Evolutionary Network Development (END) program

In February, 2006, the USPS announced that they plan to replace the nine existing facility-types with five processing facility-types:

  • Regional Distribution Centers (RDCs), which will process all classes of parcels and bundles and serve as Surface Transfer Centers;
  • Local Processing Centers (LPCs), which will process single-piece letters and flats and cancel mail;
  • Destination Processing Centers (DPC), sort the mail for individual mail carriers;
  • Airport Transfer Centers (ATCs), which will serve as transfer points only; and
  • Remote Encoding Centers (RECs).

Over a period of years, these facilities are expected to replace Processing & Distribution Centers, Customer Service Facilities, Bulk Mail Centers, Logistic and Distribution Centers, annexes, the Hub and Spoke Program, Air Mail Centers, and International Service Centers.

The changes are a result of the declining volumes of single-piece first-class mail, population shifts, the increase in drop shipments by advertising mailers at destinating postal facilities, advancements in equipment and technology, redundancies in the existing network, and the need for operational flexibility

While common usage refers to all types of postal facilities as "substations," the USPS Glossary of Postal Terms does not define or even list that word.

Temporary stations are often set up for applying pictorial cancellations.

Addressing envelopes

For any letter addressed within the United States, the USPS requires two pieces of information on the envelope.

  1. Address of the recipient: Placed on the front (non opening) side of the envelope in the center. Generally, the name of the addressee should be included above the address itself. A ZIP+4 code will facilitate delivery.
  2. Postage indication: All parcels must include an indication that postage has been paid. In most cases, this is a stamp, though metered labels are also common. Members of the U.S. Congress, among others, have franking privileges, which only require a signature.
    • First-class mail costs 42¢ upwards, depending on the weight and dimensions of the letter and the class, and the indicia is supposed to be placed in the upper-right corner.

A third, and optional (but strongly suggested) addition is a return address. This is the address that the recipient may respond to, and, if necessary, the letter can be returned to if delivery fails. It is usually placed in the upper-left corner or occasionally on the back (though the latter is standard in some countries). Undeliverable mails that cannot be readily returned, including those without return addresses, are treated as dead mails at a Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, Georgia or Saint Paul, Minnesota.The formatting of the address is as follows:

Line 1: Name of recipient
Line 2: Street address or P.O. Box
Line 3: City State (US or APO/FPO code) and ZIP+4 codeExample:
Mr Cliff Clavin
112 1/2 Beacon St
Boston MA 02119-2343

The USPS maintains a list of proper abbreviations.

The city and state designations are a redundant safety measure used in the case that the printed ZIP code is illegible or ambiguously written. Since the ZIP code system is such that there is only one street of any name for any ZIP code (ex. there is only one Johnson Street in the 10036 ZIP area), it is possible to exclude the city and state from a mailing label and still have the package delivered, assuming the label is legible.

The formatting of a return address is identical. A common myth is that a comma is required after the city name, but this is not true. (Some style manuals do recommend using the comma when typesetting addresses in other contexts, however.) The Post Office recommends use of all upper case block letters using the appropriate formats and abbreviations and leaving out all punctuation except for the hyphen in the ZIP+4 code to ease automated address reading and speed processing, particularly for handwritten addresses; if the address is unusually formatted or illegible enough, it will require hand-processing, delaying that particular item. The USPS publishes the entirety of their postal addressing standards.

Mail sorting

Processing of standard sized envelopes and cards is highly automated, including reading of handwritten addresses. Mail from individual customers and public postboxes is collected by mail carriers into plastic tubs. The tubs are taken to a Processing and Distribution Center and emptied into hampers which are then automatically dumped into a Dual Pass Rough Cull System (DPRCS). As mail travels through the DPRCS, large items, such as packages and mail bundles, are removed from the stream. As the remaining mail enters the first machine for processing standard mail, the Advanced Facer-Canceler System (AFCS), pieces that passed through the DPRCS but do not conform to physical dimensions for processing in the AFCS (i.e. large envelopes or overstuffed standard envelopes) are automatically diverted from the stream. Mail removed from the DPRCS and AFCS is manually processed or sent to parcel sorting machines.

In contrast to the previous system, which merely canceled and postmarked the upper right corner of the envelope, thereby missing any stamps which were inappropriately placed, the AFCS locates indicia (stamp or metered postage mark), regardless of the orientation of the mail as it enters the machine, and cancels it by applying a postmark. Detection of indicia enables the AFCS to determine the orientation of each mailpiece and sort it accordingly, rotating pieces as necessary so all mail is sorted right-side up and faced in the same direction in each output bin. Mail is output by the machine into three categories: mail already affixed with a bar code and addressed (such as business reply envelopes and cards), mail with machine printed (typed) addresses, and mail with handwritten addresses. Additionally, machines with a recent Optical Character Recognition (OCR) upgrade have the capability to read the address information, including handwritten, and sort the mail based on local or outgoing ZIP codes.

Mail with typed addresses goes to a Multiline Optical Character Reader (MLOCR) which reads the ZIP Code and address information and prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelope. Mail (actually the scanned image of the mail) with handwritten addresses (and machine-printed ones that aren't easily recognized) goes to the Remote Bar Coding System, an advanced scanning system with a neural net processor that is highly effective at correctly reading almost all addresses. It also corrects spelling errors and, where there is an error, omission, or conflict in the written address, identifies the most likely correct address. When it has decided on a correct address, it prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelopes, similarly to the MLOCR system. RBCS also has facilities in place, called Remote Encoding Centers, that have humans look at images of mail pieces and enter the address data. The address data is associated with the image via an ID Tag, a fluorescent Barcode printed by mail processing equipment on the back of mail pieces.

If a customer has filed a change of address card and his or her mail is detected in the mailstream with the old address, the mailpiece is sent to a machine that automatically connects to a Computerized Forwarding System database to determine the new address. If this address is found, the machine will paste a label over the former address with the current address. The mail is returned to the mailstream to forward to the new location.

Mail with addresses that cannot be resolved by the automated system are separated for human intervention. If a local postal worker can read the address, he or she manually sorts it out according to the zip code on the article. If the address cannot be read, mail is either returned to the sender (first class mail with a valid return address) or is sent to one of three Mail Recovery Centers in the United States (formerly known as Dead Letter Offices, originated by Benjamin Franklin in the 1770s) where it receives more intense scrutiny, including being opened to determine if any of the contents are a clue. If no valid address can be determined, the items are held for 90 days in case of inquiry by the customer; and if they are not claimed then they are either destroyed or auctioned off at the annual Postal Service Unclaimed Parcel auction to raise money for the service.

Once the mail is bar coded, it is automatically sorted by a Delivery Bar Code System that reads the bar code and determines the destination of the mailpiece to postal stations. Items for local delivery are retained in the postal station while other items are trucked to either the appropriate station if it is within approximately 200 miles, or the airport for transport to more distant destinations. Mail is flown, usually as baggage on commercial airlines, to the airport nearest the destination station, then at a nearby processing center the mail is once again read by a Delivery Bar Code System which sorts the items into their local destinations, including grouping them by individual mail carrier. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, only letter-sized mail has been flown on passenger airlines. Packages are solely transported via cargo carriers, most notably FedEx.

Customer services

Online services

The Post Office website provides a wide variety of services which are a fundamental change in availability of services and information. For example, users can look up ZIP codes, and purchase postage if they have an account. The domain attracted at least 159 million visitors annually by 2008 according to a survey.

Customer conveniences

The Postal Service provides many convenient services for individual and business customers. One example is the address forwarding service. Customers can fill out a form to forward mail to a new address, and can also send preprinted forms to any of their frequent correspondents.

Major mail products and services

The U.S. Postal Service announced changes to the classes of domestic mail and select postage rate increases effective July 1, 1996. Rates for single-piece first-class, single-piece Standard Mail (formerly third- and fourth-class), and international mail classes did not change. The following general description of each new mail class and the enclosed rate scales are provided for your information in determining postage costs for all mailings made on or after July 1, 1996.

U.S. Mail is delivered Monday through Saturday, with the exception of observed federal holidays.

First-class mail

First-class mail was retained in the 1996 restructuring, but divided into two new mail subclasses: Automation and Nonautomation.

  • The Automation mail subclass must be 100-percent delivery point barcoded and certified every six months for addressing and presort accuracy.
  • The Nonautomation mail subclass is the same as the previous first-class. However, bulk mailers are now required to certify the accuracy of the five-digit ZIP Codes at least once a year, and the customer address mail list must be updated at least every six months.

In 2007, First-Class Mail rates were restructured again, this time with rates based on shape along with weight.

  • Cards/Letters: Least changed. A card must be between 5" x 3.5" x .007" and 6" x 4.25" x .016" and is charged 27 cents. An envelope must be between 5" x 3.5" x .007" and 11.5" x 6.125" x .25". As of May 2008, this rate is 42 cents for the first ounce and 17 cents for each ounce above that, up to 3.5 ounces. If any of these dimensions are above these, the mailpiece goes to the next higher rate, Large Envelope (Flats)
  • Large Envelope or Flat: If a mailpiece is too big for Letter Rate, it goes up to this rate. The maximum dimensions of this are 15" x 12" x .75" and is charged 83 cents for the first ounce and 17 cents for every ounce above that up to 13 ounces. If any one of the dimensions are exceeded for Large Envelope, or are too rigid, nonrectangular/square, or not uniformely thick, the mailpiece is bumped up to parcel rates.
  • Packages or Parcels: If a mailpiece is too large for Large Envelope rate, it goes up to this rate. The length + width must not exceed 108 inches, and weight must not exceed 13 ounces. The rate for this level is $1.13 for the first ounce and 17 cents for every ounce thereafter.


Restructured from Second-Class Mail in 1996, the Periodicals class in general retains the same mailing requirements except for more stringent requirements to qualify for the automation rates. If the mail piece does not qualify for automation rates, the mailer must use the more expensive nonautomation rates for respective sorting levels. Mailers must change the second-class endorsement to Periodicals by July 1, 1996, in order to comply with reform requirements.

Standard Mail

Restructured from Third-Class Mail and Fourth-Class Mail in 1996, and used mainly for businesses, Standard Mail has these requirements:

  • Minimum 200 pieces per mailing
  • Must weigh less than 1 lb (454 g)
  • No return service unless requested (an additional fee is charged for return service)
  • Not for personal correspondence, letters, bills, or statements
  • Annual fee

Third- and fourth-class mail was restructured in 1996 into Standard Mail (A) and Standard Mail (B):

Standard Mail (A) consists of three new mail subclasses: Automation, Enhanced Carrier Route, and Regular. The minimum bulk mailing requirement of 200 addressed pieces or 50 pounds of addressed pieces remains the same as under previous third-class mail rules, but now requires mail list certification.

  • The Automation mail subclass must be 100-percent delivery point barcoded (11 digits) for letters. The ZIP+4 barcode is acceptable for flats. The carrier routes and coding accuracy for barcoded addresses must be certified quarterly and semi-annually, respectively.
  • The Enhanced Carrier Route mail subclass requires that the basic carrier route be in a line of travel sequence and that the high density and saturation rate mail be in walk sequence to qualify for the respective rates.
  • The Regular mail subclass must be certified annually for five-digit ZIP Code accuracy.

Standard Mail (B) consists of the following mail subclasses: Parcel Post, Bound Printed Matter, Special Standard Mail, Library Mail, and Nonprofit. The latter two subclasses are not authorized for government use. The mailing requirements for this mail class remain unchanged from fourth-class mail. However, the mail piece must bear the sender's return address, and the delivery address must include the correct ZIP Code. Special fourth-class mail was renamed Special Standard Mail, and the basic requirements for its use remain the same.

Bulk Mail

Used for businesses to send large quantities of mail.

  • Can be First-Class Mail, Standard Mail, Bound Printed Matter, Media Mail, or Parcel Post
  • Discounted rates
  • Annual fee required (For each mail class used)
  • Enforced rules about mailpiece quality, address format, and address quality.
  • May require additional work by the sender, such as certified address matching and pre-sorting by ZIP Code or walk sequence.
  • Mail must usually be brought to a Bulk Mail Entry Unit post office.

Parcel Post

Domestic Parcel Post service was finally adopted in 1913, a full 25 years after the Post Office had agreed to deliver international parcel post packages pursuant to the Universal Postal Union treaty and various bilateral agreements with other nations. Initially, there were few or no postal regulations governing packages mailed parcel post. To construct a bank in Vernal, Utah in 1916, a Salt Lake City Company figured out that the cheapest way to send 40 tons of bricks to the building was by Parcel Post. Each brick was individually wrapped & mailed. Postal rules were promptly rewritten.

Parcel Post service is used to send packages weighing up to 70 lbs (31.75 kg).

  • Delivery standards are 10-14 business days except to Alaska & Hawaii, where container ships carry mail and may take as long as five weeks
  • Rates are based on distance, weight and shape
  • Delivery to every address in the United States, including PO Boxes and Military Addresses.
  • Parcel Post is now a domestic service only. International Parcel Post delivery was discontinued by the USPS in May 2007 after 120 years of service.
  • Unlike First Class Mail or Priority Mail, Parcel Post does not include free forwarding or return service if undeliverable or not picked up. If a package is shipped via Parcel Post cannot be delivered, the recipient (if forwarded) or the sender (if returned) will pay the postage due amount.

Media Mail

Formerly (and colloquially, still) known as "Book Rate", Media Mail is used to send books (at least 8 pages), printed materials, sound recordings, videotapes, CD-ROMs, diskettes, and similar, but cannot contain advertising. Maximum weight is 70 pounds (31.75 kg).

  • Delivery standards are 5–9 business days
  • Rates based on weight
  • Much cheaper than Parcel Post, and roughly the same transit time
  • Postage can be paid using any method except precanceled stamps

Library Mail

Same as Media Mail, but receives an additional discount and may be used only for books or recordings being sent to or from a public library, museum, or academic institution.

Bound Printed Matter

Same as Media Mail but it is used to mail permanently-bound sheets of advertising, promotional, directory or editorial material such as catalogs and phonebooks. It may be slightly cheaper than Media Mail rates. Observations:

  • Package can weigh up to 15 lb.
  • Sheets must be permanently-bound by secure fastenings such as staples, spiral binding, glue or stitching.
  • At least 90% of the sheets must be imprinted by any process other than handwriting or typewriting.
  • Mail must be marked "return service requested" to receive undeliverable back. Mail without this marking will be disposed of.
  • Postage may be applied by PC postage, permit imprint, or stamps, but cannot be bought at a retail counter, effective May 14, 2007.

Priority Mail

Priority Mail is an expedited mail service with a few additional features.

  • Average delivery time is 2–3 days (not guaranteed)
  • Packages up to 70 pounds (31.75 kg)
  • Label can be printed online
  • Delivery to any address in the United States
  • Dimensional weight is used along with actual weight for all parcels above 1 cubic foot
  • Flat rate envelopes and boxes available (one rate for whatever you put in the envelope, though the envelope's seal must be the primary method of enclosure)

Registered Mail

According to the USPS's Domestic Mail Manual, Registered Mail is "the most secure service that the USPS offers" and is used to send (often in combination with insurance) high-value items such as jewelry or coins, sensitive or irreplaceable paperwork, and DoD classified information up to the SECRET level. Items sent via Registered mail are tracked via a system of receipts as they move through the mail system, and they can be tracked electronically by the sender via phone or through the USPS's web site. Items sent via Registered mail are transported to the Processing and Distribution Center in a locked container, and once there are kept separate from all other mail in a location with secure access. Every time the item is handled, this is noted in a ledger.

  • Delivery time is about the same or longer than First Class, and is not guaranteed
  • Parcels or letters must meet the mailing standards for First Class mail, including minimum size
  • Must be presented to a clerk in person at a Post Office, cannot be put into an on-street box or rural pickup box
  • Cannot be Business Reply Mail

Express Mail

Express Mail is the fastest mail service offered by the USPS.

  • Typically overnight or second-day delivery
  • Delivery to most, but not all, US locations 365 days a year
  • Flat rate envelope available
  • Packages up to 70 pounds (31.75 kg)
  • Guaranteed on-time delivery or the postage is refunded subject to conditions

Postal money orders

  • Provide a safe alternative to sending cash through the mail, and are available in any amount up to $1000.
  • Money orders are cashable only by the recipient, just like a bank check. One of the reasons for the growing popularity of money orders is that, unlike a personal bank check, they are pre-paid and therefore cannot bounce.
  • Money orders are a declining business for the USPS, as companies like PayPal and PaidByCash and others are offering electronic replacements through the MasterCard and Visa systems.

International services

Formerly, USPS International services were categorized as Airmail (Letter Post), Economy (Surface) Parcel Post, Airmail Parcel Post, Global Priority, Global Express, and Global Express Guaranteed Mail. In May 2007, USPS restructured international service names to correspond with domestic shipping options. Letter post is now 1st Class International, Airmail Parcel Post was discontinued and replaced by Priority Mail International. Global Express is now Express Mail International. Global Express Guaranteed is unchanged, and Economy Parcel Post was discontinued for international service. The only mailing classes with a tracking ability are Express and Express Guaranteed. One of the major changes in the new naming and services definitions is that USPS-supplied mailing boxes for Priority and Express mail are now allowed for international use. Also, a Priority Mail International Flat-Rate has been introduced, with the same conditions of service previously used for Global Priority. These services are offered to ship letters and packages to almost every country and territory on the globe. Ironically, the USPS provides much of this service by contracting with a private parcel service, FedEx.

On May 14, 2007, the United States Postal Service canceled all outgoing international surface mail (sometimes known as "sea mail") from the United States, citing increased costs and reduced demand due to competition from airmail services such as FedEx and UPS. The decision has been criticized by the Peace Corps and military personnel overseas, as well as independent booksellers and other small businesses who rely on international deliveries.

Airline and rail division

The United States Postal Service does not directly own or operate any aircraft or trains. The mail and packages are flown on airlines with which the Postal Service has a contractual agreement. The contracts change periodically. Depending on the contract, aircraft may be painted with the USPS paint scheme. Contract airlines have included: Emery Worldwide, Ryan International Airlines, FedEx Express, Rhoades Aviation, and Express One International. The Postal Service also contracts with Amtrak to carry some mail between certain cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Sunday mail delivery

Until 1912, mail was delivered 7 days a week. As the postal service grew in popularity and usage in the 1800s, local religious leaders were noticing a decline in Sunday morning church attendance due to local post offices doubling as gathering places. These leaders appealed to the government to intervene and close post offices on Sundays.

This is a matter of some controversy. Supporters of no-Sunday delivery believe that the post office is closed to prevent a government subsidized agency from forcing Christians to work on Sunday, a protection of religious freedom. Those who wish to reinstate Sunday delivery believe the government used its power to take "competition" away from churches, and point out that Christians and those of any other belief work for the post office voluntarily (and that no exemption has been put in place for the holy days of other faiths); therefore, it is seen by some as a violation of separation of church and state.

As a result of this intervention by the government, U.S. Mail (with the exception of Express Mail) is not delivered on Sunday, with the exception of a few towns in which the local religion has had an effect on the policy, for example, Loma Linda, California, which has a significant Seventh-Day Adventist population. U.S. Mail is delivered Monday through Saturday, with the exception of observed federal holidays.

Add-on services

The Postal Service offers additional services for some types of mail.

Signature confirmation

  • Confirms delivery with signature
  • Recipient's first initial and last name is typographically displayed online
  • Recipient's signature is kept on file
  • Only available with First Class Mail parcels, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Media Mail, Parcel Post, and Bound Printed Matter)


  • Provides package with insurance from loss or damage while in transit
  • Available for amounts up to $5,000
  • Covers material losses only minus depreciation

Certified Mail

Collect On Delivery (C.O.D.)

  • Allows merchants to offer customers an option to pay upon delivery
  • Insurance comes included with fee
  • Amount to be collected cannot exceed $1,000
  • Available for First-Class Mail, Express Mail, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Parcel Post, Bound Printed Matter, and Media Mail).

Air Mail and Pony Express trademarks

In 2006 the Postal Service registered traditional trademarks Pony Express and Air Mail.

Postage stamps

All unused U.S. postage stamps issued since 1861 are still valid as postage at their indicated value. Stamps with no value shown or denominated by a letter are also still valid at their purchase price.

The cost of mailing a letter increased to 41 cents in 2007, but the Post Office now offers a "forever" stamp. This stamp will be sold at the standard rate, but will always be valid for 1st class mail (1 oz and under), no matter how rates rise in the future. First class postage increased to 42 cents on May 12, 2008.

Copyright and reproduction

All U.S. postage stamps issued under the former United States Post Office Department and other postage items that were released before 1978 are in the public domain as government works. However following the creation of the United States Postal Service, the United States Copyright Office in section 206.02(b) of the Compendium II: Copyright Office Practices holds that "Works of the U.S. Postal Service, as now constituted, are not considered U.S. Government works. Here, the U.S. Copyright Office has clarified that works of the U.S. Postal Service, of the government of the District of Columbia, or of the government of Puerto Rico are not "works of the U.S. government" and thus are subject to copyright. Thus, postal service holds copyright to such materials released after 1978 under Title 17 of the United States Code. Written permission is required for use of copyrighted postage stamp images.

Postage meters

PC postage

In addition to using standard stamps, postage can now be printed from a personal computer using a system called Information Based Indicia. Authorized providers of PC Postage are:

or by using the Automated Postal Center, (a self-service kiosk, located at select Post Offices nationwide)

Other electronic postage payment methods

Electronic Verification System (eVS) is the Postal Service's integrated mail management technology that centralizes payment processing and electronic postage reports. Part of an evolving suite of USPS electronic payment services called PostalOne! , eVS allows mailers shipping large volumes of parcels through the Postal Service a way to circumvent use of hard-copy manifests, postage statements and drop-shipment verification forms. Instead, mailers can pay postage automatically through a centralized account and track payments online.

Beginning August 2007, the Postal Service began requiring mailers shipping Parcel Select packages using a permit imprint to use eVS for manifesting their packages. Currently, the list of USPS "Approved eVS Mailers includes:

Customized postage

Customers can also use their own pictures or images to print their very own customized postage products using one of the vendors listed below. Customized postage is valid U.S. postage and can be used just like a stamp. Customized postage can be ordered in all first-class rates, as well as in the Priority Mail rate. More information is available at

Affiliation with Online Postage Providers

In addition to the USPS Click-N-Ship service, the USPS has partnered with other companies such as Endicia and Pitney Bowes. Endicia provides the technology that allows Click-N-Ship to print postage and Endicia licenses this technology to individual shippers through software applications. Similarly, Pitney Bowes allows PayPal to offer postage label printing with the services the site has to offer. In PayPal's case, a Sender can print postage on PayPal and have the costs deducted from their PayPal account or a linked bank account. With either service, the Sender may then drop off the parcel at a location accepting parcels or request pick-up at the address of origin.


Beginning in 1996, the USPS was head sponsor of a professional cycling team bearing its name. The team featured Lance Armstrong, seven-time winner of the Tour de France. The sponsorship ended in 2004, when the Discovery Channel stepped in as the main sponsor and renamed the team as the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

Employment in the USPS

The USPS employs more people than any company in the United States except Wal-Mart. It employed 790,000 personnel in 2003, divided into offices, processing centers, and actual post offices. USPS employees are divided into three major crafts according to the work they engage in:

  • Letter Carriers, also referred to as mailmen or mail-carriers; are the public face of the USPS. As the front line, carriers are routinely pressured to move faster, work harder, and perform more tasks in a timed manner. The most stressful of crafts, carriers are watched, timed and inspected more than any other employees.
  • Mail handlers and processors often work in the evening and night to prepare Express, Priority, First Class, Bulk Business Mail (BBM), and other classes of mail for the carriers to deliver or for dispatch throughout the Postal network. Work is physically strenuous, especially for mail handlers; many mailbags loaded from and onto trucks weigh as much as 70 pounds (32 kg).
  • Clerks sort and/ or case first and second class mail as well as standard and bulk rate mail. Clerks also work in the post offices, handling customer needs, receiving express mail, and selling stamps. DCOs (Data Conversion Operators), who encode address information at Remote Encoding Centers, are also members of the clerk craft.

Other types of positions in the USPS (other than management) include:

  • Maintenance and Custodians, who see to the overall operation and cleaning of mail sorting machines, work areas, public parking and general facility operations.
  • TEs (Transitional Employees), who are hired in seasonal intervals as part-time workers with lower wages, no benefits, and can often work up to 12hrs a day, 7 days a week if needed.
  • The most recent contract adopted by the NALC (National Association of Letter Carriers) has eliminated the 'casual' carrier position. Casuals continue to exist in other crafts, however.

Though USPS employs many individuals, as more Americans send information via electronic mail, fewer postal workers are needed to work dwindling amounts of mail. Post offices and mail facilities are constantly downsizing, replacing craft positions with new machines and eliminating mail routes. Thus, postal hiring has been criticized as sporadic. Competition for new, full-time, salaried positions can be highly intense.

The employees are represented by the American Postal Workers Union, which represents clerks, maintenance employees, and motor vehicle service workers, National Rural Letter Carriers' Association and the National Association of Letter Carriers as their bargaining agents and union representatives.

Environmental Record

The United States Postal Service has been given the WasteWise Partner of the Year eight times. USPS is also the only shipping/ mailing company in the United States that has received the Cradle to CradleSM certification, which they received in 2007. In order to receive this certification, the company’s products undergo intense reviews in many areas including: the use of renewable energy and efficient water use during production, and strategies for social responsibility, among others.

The USPS is taking more than 500 old postal trucks off of the road and replacing them with newer, larger trucks, which will numerous benefits for the environment: (1) decreasing the amount of CO2 emissions by replacing the vintage vehicles with cleaner, more fuel efficient year 2000 vehicles, (2) the use of larger vehicles will reduce the number of miles that USPS vehicles travel. In addition to this environmental initiative, the USPS recycles about 2 trillion pounds of plastic, paper, and other materials yearly.

Public reputation

As violent ("Going Postal")

In the early 1990s, widely publicized workplace shootings by disgruntled employees at USPS facilities led to a postal regulation that prohibits the possession of firearms in all postal facilities. Due to media coverage, postal employees gained a reputation among the general public as being mentally ill. The USPS Commission on a Safe and Secure Workplace found that "Postal workers are only a third as likely as those in the national workforce to be victims of homicide at work. This stereotype in turn has influenced American culture, as seen in the slang term "going postal" (see Patrick Sherrill for information on his August 20, 1986, rampage) and the computer game Postal. Also, in the opening sequence of Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult, a yell of "Disgruntled postal workers" is heard, followed by the arrival of postal workers with machine guns. In an episode of Seinfeld, the character Newman, who is a mailman, explained in a dramatic monologue that postal workers "go crazy and kill everyone" because the mail never stops.

As dedicated (Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...)

Lines supposedly from the Ancient Greek historian Herodotus, "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds," are engraved on the exterior of the U.S. Postal Service building in New York City; they are often erroneously cited as the official motto of the USPS. The translation may be a slightly more poetical rendition of the original text, though the same sentiment is expressed.

The postman in the animated television program Garfield and Friends is so dedicated to delivering mail past Garfield's elaborate traps that he attempts to deliver the mail in a tank. He professes a simple love of being greeted as he delivers the mail.

On the popular television show Cheers, Cliff Clavin has portrayed himself as a dedicated postal worker on many occasions. The misconception of postal workers always drinking led to new postal regulations that made drinking in a bar while in uniform a fireable offense.

In Lucifer's Hammer a dedicated postal worker goes about his rounds even though a comet has just hit the earth.

In The Postman the titular character catalyzes a rebirth of civilization by donning the uniform and pretending to be a letter carrier from a post-apocalyptic United States government.

In contrast, on the popular television program Seinfeld, Jerry's neighbor Newman, a letter carrier, refused to deliver mail when it rained. This is much to the dismay of George Costanza, who is unable to remember the whole of the famous quotation and misquotes it as "neither rain, nor sleet...", pointing out to Newman that rain is the first weather phenomenon mentioned.

In fiction

  • In the 1947 classic, Miracle on 34th Street, the identity of Kris Kringle (played by Edmund Gwenn), as the one and only "Santa Claus" was validated by a state court, based on the delivery of 21 bags of mail (famously carried into the courtroom) to the character in question. The contention was that it would have been illegal for the United States Post Office to deliver mail that was addressed to "Santa Claus" to the character "Kris Kringle", unless he was, in fact, the one and only Santa Claus. Judge Henry X. Harper (played by Gene Lockhart), ruled that since the US Government had demonstrated (through the delivery of the bags of mail) that Kris Kringle was Santa Claus, then the State of New York did not have the authority to overrule that decision.
  • In Seinfeld, Newman is an employee at the USPS, which is portrayed in the series as a powerful, nefarious organization. He claims that ZIP codes are meaningless, no mail carrier has successfully delivered more than 50% of their mail, a feat he compares to the 3-minute mile, and that several postal workers go on killing sprees because, as he puts it, "the mail never stops." In one episode, Cosmo Kramer is abducted by Post Office security men for running an anti-mail campaign after he realizes the Postal Service has become obsolete.
  • At the beginning of the sci-fi sequel Men In Black II from 2002, Tommy Lee Jones' character is working at a United States Post Office as he is no longer active as Agent K and had all his memory erased.


See also

Unions of the U.S. Postal Service

Gallery of USPS post offices

Gallery of USPS mailboxes


External links

Search another word or see media mailon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature