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The United States Postal Service

The United States Postal Service

For more than two centuries, the United States Postal Service has helped Americans stay in touch by delivering the mail through rain, snow, and dead of night. Though this mode of communication has seen a dramatic slowdown in recent decades, it had been a torch of American revolutions and a legacy which nothing can overshadow.
Historyplex Staff
By Ben Smith

The United States Postal Service is responsible for delivering mail to any address within the United States. It was founded in 1775 by the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The Postal Service was not the country's first, but a new postal service became necessary as the Revolutionary War drew closer. Benjamin Franklin was selected as the first Postmaster General, and he was a logical choice because he had prior experience with delivering mail.

In 1737, Benjamin Franklin was selected by the British to serve as the postmaster for the city of Philadelphia. In 1753, Franklin and William Hunter were appointed Joint Postmasters General over all the American Colonies. Franklin set about making improvements to the system and increasing efficiency. By 1760, the Postal Service was turning a profit for the first time. Franklin was removed from service in 1774 by the English because of his sympathetic attitudes toward the American colonists. When, a year later, the Second Continental Congress created its own postal service, Franklin was the natural choice to lead.

By 1800, the seat of power for the United States Government had moved from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. The Postal Service moved as well. In its early years of existence, the Postal Service was more tightly integrated with the government than it is today. In fact, in 1829 the position of Postmaster General was changed to a Cabinet-level position, and the holder of this office was last in line for the Presidential line of succession. The Postmaster General was removed from the line of succession in 1947 and from the Cabinet in 1971.

As the newly-formed nation was trying to provide basic services to its citizens, the postal services struggled with delivering mail on a timely basis to the entire country. When it was created, the service was charged with delivering mail to more than 2,000 miles of road through a network of 75 post offices. America expanded over the years, and its pace of expansion quickly outstripped the post office's ability to deliver mail quickly and efficiently.

Since the post was the main source of information exchange between people, it was at the forefront of innovation. In 1823, the Postal Service began using steamboats to deliver distant areas where roads had not yet been created. When trains first began to see use in America, they quickly secured a contract to use the railroads to deliver mail. In 1860, the Pony Express was created and used to quickly deliver mail from coast to coast in a matter of days. In 1896, at the dawn of the automobile, the postal department again used this new technology in an effort to deliver mail quickly and at cheaper rates. When airplanes became reliable enough for regular use, in 1918, they too were used as a method for mail delivery.

Today the postal service is facing a new challenge. As technology has improved, the ability for people to communicate instantly has eliminated some of the need for traditional letters to be sent in the mail. Much of the correspondence between friends and businesses is now done via e-mail, and this has greatly reduced the volume of mail. In recent years the post service has begun closing some of its branches in an effort to cut costs. Currently they are looking at more ways to save money, including changing the delivery schedule from 6 days a week to 5 days a week during the summer months. The United States Postal Service has a long and proud history of meeting the country's mail delivery needs. While it currently faces a new type of challenge, history suggests that it will continue to use technology to meet and surpass whatever adversity it faces.