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Nostalgic look back at postal history

"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

The United States Postal Service does not have a motto or slogan, but this Greek saying was translated and seemed to fit. It is printed on the outside wall of the General Post Office building in New York City.

One day, I heard a complaint about our mail service, and I got to thinking. We should be so happy it isn't like it was back when our ancestors settled out here on the open prairie. There sure wasn't mail delivery to our mailbox. Have we forgotten to be thankful, or do we just take it all for granted?

So I decided I'd look for the history of the Postal System. Steve Arthur, Ellis librarian, handed me 44 pages of material from Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia. I read over the interesting history, highlighted parts to share with you. I was thinking a short quick history, but the information was more than I anticipated -- hard to cut short.

The first postal service in America arose in 1692 when a grant from King William and Queen Mary empowered Thomas Neal "to erect, settle and establish a system to send and receive correspondence in their majesties colonies and plantations in America."

After the Revolutionary War, the United States Post Office was created on July 26, 1775, by decree of the Second Continental Congress -- Benjamin Franklin was in charge.

The modern post office originated in 1792 after Rufus Easton was appointed by Thomas Jefferson to be the first postmaster and built the first post office west of the Mississippi River.

The use of railroads to transport mail in the East was instituted in 1832. By 1869, with 27,000 local post offices to deal with, sorting occurred en route in specialized railroad mail cars.

The first stamp was issued March 3, 1847. In 1863, free delivery began in larger cities. In 1864, the system of postal money orders began.

Free rural delivery in the U.S. began in 1896. In 1913, parcel post was inaugurated, which led to the growth of mail-order business.

From 1911 to 1967, the USPS operated the U.S. Postal Savings System.

Currently, the USPS employs 574,000 workers and is third largest employer in the U.S. behind the federal government and Walmart. Each day the USPS delivers approximately 660 million pieces of mail to as many as 142 million delivery points.

As of 2011, the USPS operates 31,000 post offices and delivers 177 billion pieces of mail annually.

There is much more history, but I'm cutting off the history lesson -- I hope I haven't lost you.

The mail has always meant a lot to me. When I was a kid, I couldn't hardly wait till the mailman came. Our box was a quarter-mile from the house. I'd run down the hill to get it, check to see if there was a letter from my many pen pals. Then I'd carefully carry the bundle up the hill, making sure I didn't drop anything. A friend of mine said she and her brother waited at the mailbox because their mailman always had a candy for them.

The mailbox is usually full -- daily paper, magazines, catalogs, letter requesting a donation, monthly bills and personal correspondence. A lot of the mail ends up in the trash barrel. I've got enough free name labels to last forever or until I move, since I've been at the same address since 1960.

My son reminded me about the time someone used our mailbox for target practice. We hammered the holes flat so rain couldn't get in.

The kids surprised us one Christmas with a large odd-shaped gift wrapped in pretty paper. We tore into it, finding a neat mailbox, handmade with a dairy cow and "Flinn" cut out of metal. I still use this gift that was set in concrete at my driveway entrance.

Nowadays, those with email get information, news from family, greeting cards, pay bills ... almost everything can be done that way. I'm still old-fashioned. I want the personal letter I can hold in my hand and know it was touched by the sender; I can stick it under my pillow if I want it close.

I wondered what happens when I drop a letter in the box. I found out it goes to the PMPC (priority mail processing center) then sent to the DC (distribution center), which is the post office where it will be delivered by a carrier.

The troubling thing about this seemingly simple process is that a letter I mail in Ellis to someone in Ellis has to go out of town to a processing center then sent back to be delivered.

When the weather is hot, cold or rainy, keep your mailman and paperboy in your prayers, and be thankful they continue to serve us faithfully day after day.

Opal Flinn is a member of The Hays Daily News Generations advisory group.