United States

The US Post Office

From Franklin to Funding Crisis

by Stranger’s Guide

A historical timeline of the US Postal Service.


1737
—Benjamin Franklin is appointed postmaster of Philadelphia, and uses his new position to increase the circulation of his own newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.

1753—Franklin is appointed Postmaster General of America (a post shared with William Hunter.) During his tenure, Franklin travels 1,600 miles, touring all the northern colonies to survey post roads and post offices establishing more efficient routes and requiring riders to carry mail both day and night to speed up deliveries.

1775—Benjamin Franklin is appointed first Postmaster General of the 13 colonies by the Continental Congress.

1792—George Washington, Benjamin Rush and James Madison use the high cost of postage to send letters, to subsidize the cost of mailing cheap uncensored newspapers to every US citizen so that they can be better informed before they vote in elections.

1847—US postage stamps issued. Congress authorized the Postmaster General to release two stamps: the 5 cent Benjamin Franklin which paid the domestic letter rate of 5 cents per half-ounce for up to 300 miles, and the 10 cent George Washington which paid the domestic letter rate of 10 cents per half-ounce for distances greater than 300 miles.

1860—The Pony Express began. Although it was only in service for 18 months (between April 1860 and October 1861, using relays of horse-mounted riders), it reduced the time for mail to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to about 10 days.

1918—Scheduled airmail service began. Special Air Mail stamps were issued for the new service between Washington–Philadelphia–New York.

1963—ZIP Codes introduced. Short for Zoning Improvement Plan, the numbers were devised when a large number of postal service staff went to fight in WWII. Severely understaffed, the post office needed a simple way to deliver mail effectively.

1971—After Richard Nixon formally created the United States Postal Service, postal unions were allowed to engage in collective bargaining over wages and conditions—the first time federal employees had been allowed to do so.

2001—Email massively reduces the volume of first class physical mail.

2006—Among other things, the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act (PAEA), signed into law by President George W. Bush, compelled the USPS to pay health and retirement benefits of all of its employees for at least 50 years—in advance. By 2019 it was $160.9 billion in debt due to PAEA, the growth of the Internet and recession.

2020—President Donald Trump opposes extra funding for the Postal Service because he wants to make it harder to expand voting by mail, which he believes is open to abuse. The Joe Biden presidential campaign called the comments sabotage. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Trump wanted to “manipulate the operations of the Post Office to deny eligible voters the ballot in pursuit of his own re-election.”

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