The first organized system of post offices in America was created by the British Parliament in 1711, but as early as 1639 there was a post office in Boston. The mails were carried over a system of post roads; the New York City-Boston service was established in 1672. Postage stamps were first used in the United States in 1847; other developments were the registering of mail (1855), city delivery (1863), money orders (1864), and penny postcards (1873). Special-delivery service started in 1885, rural delivery in 1896, the postal savings system in 1911 (discontinued 1966), and parcel post in 1913. Mail was transmitted to the West Coast by the pony express of 1860-61. Mail service by railroad was instituted in 1862, and airmail in 1918.
In the United States, postal service is under the direction of the U.S. Postal Service, having been reorganized in 1970 from the old Post Office Department. It is governed by an 11-member board, who choose a Postmaster General; since the reorganization, the Postmaster General is no longer a member of the cabinet. A separate five-member commission is charged with reviewing and approving rate changes proposed by the board. The U.S. Postal Service operates as an independent, self-supporting agency within the government.
The Universal Postal Union (UPU), which facilitates the exchange of mail among nations, was established after the International Postal Convention of 1874; the UPU is now a specialized agency of the United Nations. Many governmental postal services have special divisions for serving stamp collectors (see philately). Since the early 1970s in the United States, private shipping services, such as Federal Express (now FedEx) and United Parcel Service (UPS), have competed for special services, and by the 1990s electronic services such as fax (see facsimile) and electronic mail also cut into the postal service's business.
See F. G. Kay, Royal Mail (1951); F. Staff, The Transatlantic Mail (1957); C. H. Scheele, A Short History of the Mail Service (1970); G. Cullinan, The United States Postal Service (rev. ed. 1973); J. H. Bruns, Great American Post Offices (1998); R. R. John, Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse (1998).
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 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 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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Although its customer service centers are called post offices in regular speech, the USPS recognizes several types of postal facilities, including the following:
In February, 2006, the USPS announced that they plan to replace the nine existing facility-types with five processing facility-types:
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
In 2007, First-Class Mail rates were restructured again, this time with rates based on shape along with weight.
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.
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.
Parcel Post service is used to send packages weighing up to 70 lbs (31.75 kg).
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.
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.
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.
or by using the Automated Postal Center, (a self-service kiosk, located at select Post Offices nationwide)
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:
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 www.usps.com/postagesolutions/customizedpostage.htm
Other types of positions in the USPS (other than management) include:
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.
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.
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.
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.