The US Postal Service is a vital part of our community AND business networks!
“Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep the postmen from their appointed rounds”.
What’s the first thing you do when you get home from work each day? If you’re like most people you check the mail! Granted many times the mail is filled with junk, but there is nothing better than finding an unexpected letter or check hiding amongst the extras. Can you imagine no more local post office? No more daily mail delivery? The US would not be the same.
Yet these days it seems as though there is more and more talk of closing down the postal service. This is in part because of revenue issues. On paper the US postal service does not make a profit. In fact, it often appears to be in the red. Most supporters of the post office say this is because of the requirement to fund not just postal pensions of all employees, but also to make sure there is a reserve of funds to cover the healthcare costs of employees. Like all of the United States, the healthcare costs of the postal service continue to rise.
However, in arguing this the supporters of the post office seem to be focused on the wrong issue. The question isn’t whether or not the US Postal Service is profitable, the question is whether or not the US wants to have a national postal service. The US Postal Service has always been about the safety, prosperity and well-being of our country. It started in response for the need to communicate during the Revolution and it has continued as a vital public service throughout the centuries as growing communities needed to stay connected.
The US Postal Service has always been about public service, not about profit making. Even more interesting, privately owned postal companies which try to do what the US Postal Service does almost always fail. True small companies which cherry pick profitable markets can succeed, but providing service to the many and the all, such as providing daily postal deliveries to our vulnerable rural populations is not profitable!
Just take a look at Amazon. Currently, about 1/3 of all Amazon deliveries are done by the US Postal Service, especially in rural communities. Amazon has internalized much of its delivery service in urban areas, but it can’t meet its goal of 1-day delivery throughout the rural US. It simply isn’t possible, even with drone service. Certainly, as technology changes, this may become more possible, however, as we’ve seen in many private sector efforts, the areas of least profitability are the areas to first be cut.
The US Postal Service is America’s guarantee to timely and efficient communication. It’s a vital part of our community AND business networks and should be invested in with that concept in mind.
US Postal Service History
The Postal Service has gone through many modifications over the years. Here is brief history. To learn more about the history of the US Postal Service by visiting https://about.usps.com/who-we-are/postal-history/welcome.htm, or if you have the opportunity, visit the National Postal Museum in Washington DC.
During colonial times mail was mostly delivered to inns, coffee houses or taverns which were designated as stations. In 1673 the first postal route ran between New York and Boston, and in 1683 the first post office was opened. In 1692 the postal service became more formalized. Started with a grant from the British government, it was run as a private enterprise, but it was not profitable and in 1707 the British government bought the rights to it and operated it through a Postmaster General. One of their last Postmasters was Benjamin Franklin, who was fired for his sympathetic support of the colonies bid for independence. The Second Continental Congress, which was in charge of strategy for the Revolution, started its own postal service in July 26, 1775 because communication was vital to the war effort and appointed Benjamin Franklin as its Postmaster General. Franklin was still in this role when the Declaration of Independence created the United States of America and so was the first Postmaster General of the country.
By 1828 the US Postal Service was the largest employer of any department of the Federal Government’s executive branch with over 7,530 Post Offices and 29,956 postal employees, mail contractors, and carriers. It was about 75% of the civilian federal workforce. The postal service did much during the 1800s to improve postal service including shortening delivery times and setting a standard postal rate. As the demand for postal routes in difficult areas grew, the US Postal Service and the Federal Government had to decide whether or not to subsidize routes. Ultimately it was decided that it’s role was one of public service so it subsidized post routes that supported national development and instituted services to benefit all residents of the country.
Overcoming the large, challenging terrain of the US has been a constant need for the Us Postal Service. Figuring out how to do that and keep rates low has been a constant challenge. For instance, the Pony Express was started in 1860 as a way to cover the large central part of the country. It started at the end of the railroad lines in Missouri and traversed 2000 miles. Ultimately it was not a profitable venture and was again subsidized to keep it functioning. It ended in 1861 when the transcontinental telegraph lines were completely installed.
In 1863 the first home delivery was started, first in the urban areas and starting in 1893 in rural communities. A postal carrier might walk as much as 25 miles in one day and they only delivered to people who were home. It wasn’t until 1923 that mail slots or receptacles (boxes) were required. In early days deliveries happened as often as they were needed with mail being delivery sometimes 2 or 3 times a day. In 1950 the number of deliveries was limited to once a day. With the growth of suburban areas in the 1950s motorized mail routes became common.
In the mid 1960s the postal service faced a crisis as US mail began to overwhelm the postal services outdated equipment and systems. This resulted in a restructuring of the postal service in 1970. Automation has vastly improved this issue in the intervening years, but the postal service is still at risk. In 2003 a Presidential commission called for the Postal Service to remain a public institution subject to broader oversight and directed the Postal Service to focus on universal mail service as its core value, to be guided by the best business practices, to overhaul the postal network, to clarify the postal monopoly, and to maintain a culture of excellence. This is also the time when the postal service began dealing with a complicated pension pre-payment plan that has been impacted by changes in inflation, reduced revenue, recessions and increasing future healthcare costs.