System that allows persons to send letters, parcels, or packages to addressees in the same country or abroad. Postal systems are usually government-run and paid for by a combination of user charges and government subsidies. There are early references to postal services in Egypt circa 2000 BC and in Zhou-dynasty China circa 1000 BC. The Roman Empire developed various centralized methods of relaying messages. In the Middle Ages there were no centralized postal services. Private postal systems developed with the rise of nation-states during the Renaissance; subsequently, postal services became government monopolies. Charges based on weight rather than distance and the use of prepaid stamps were first proposed in 1837. The General Postal Union (1875; later Universal Postal Union) improved international mail delivery by allowing member countries to retain the postage they collected on outgoing international mail and requiring them to treat incoming international mail as they did domestic mail. Airmail and automated mail handling were developed in the 20th century. Seealso e-mail.
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Certificate requiring the issuer to pay a certain sum of money on demand to a specific person or organization. Money orders provide a fast, safe, and convenient means of transferring small sums of money. They are issued by governments (usually through postal authorities), banks, and other qualified institutions to buyers who pay the issuer the face amount of the money order plus a service charge. Because they are exchangeable for cash on demand, they are a generally accepted means of payment. The American Express Co. began issuing money orders in 1882; the company also created the first traveler's checks nine years later. Seealso currency.
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