The postage meter was introduced in the United States in 1912 by Arthur Pitney, who in 1920 went into business with partner Walter Bowes in order to produce the machines.
Postage meters have evolved from purely mechanical devices to today's Internet-based postage dispensing services. The evolution of the postage meter is covered in the following sections.
Since the issuance of adhesive stamps in 1847, postal officials have been concerned about security against stamp theft and how to process mail in a timely fashion. As early as 1884, a Frenchman, Carle Bushe, obtained a British patent for a device that would print a “stamp” on an envelope and record the amount of postage by means of a counting device, or meter. Inventors in Germany, Norway, Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain pursued similar idea in the late 1800’s, but nothing came to pass.
Working independently, a young Chicago inventor, Arthur Pitney, obtained his first mailing system patent in 1902. Shortly after, he formed the Pitney Postal Machine Company, which became the American Postage Meter Company in 1912 The first machine consisted of a manual crank, chain action, printing die, counter and lockout device.
In 1919, Pitney joined forces with Walter Bowes, an entrepreneur who had achieved prominence in postal circles through his company, the Universal Stamping Machine Company, which manufactured post office canceling machines. In 1920, the two companies merged to create the Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter Company.
The Model M Postage Meter was authorized on September 1 1920 and was put into commercial use in Stamford later that year. (In 1986, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers designated the Model M as an International Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark).
If the integrated scales are disabled, the postage has to be entered manually via the keyboard. Otherwise the machine calculates the postage regarding the dimensions and the weight of the consignment. Afterwards the letters are automatically run through an aperture, which is limited to the largest allowed dimensions, and the postage is imprinted. The balance-counter subtracts the imprinted value from the balance, the counter of the total adds the same value, and the printing-counter adds one. If the desired postage is no longer topped up, imprinting is denied. After running through, the consignment arrives at the collect pan orientated "postmark up/front". For thicker consignments there are peelable postage strips, which are manually inserted into the machine via an entry on the side.
Manual Set and Rotary Print Head meters were decertified by the USPS in 2002. While more advanced, including remote meter resetting capabilities, this early technology was deemed susceptible to tampering.
Leading systems also include IntelliLink technology, which provides access to a complete suite of management information and USPS services such as Delivery Confirmation, Signature Confirmation, Certified Mail and e-Return Receipt. Other preferred features include Weigh-on-the-Weigh and Shape-Based Rating, which automatically calculate the correct postage for mixed-weight and mixed-sized mail.
There are a number of companies offering postage meters, also called franking machines.
eBay and PayPal users can print labels with postage using eBay's online postage solution and pay using their PayPal account. This technology, powered by Pitney Bowes, provides for a completely browser-based online postage solution.
Other technologies allow you to print postage from your computer, or from small stamp printers. In the first consumer application for postage meters, customized stamps are also possible.
For high-volume mailers, a postage meter may also be incorporated into an inserting system which prepares mail end-to-end.