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ZIP Code & Postal Code Facts
Zip Codes are largely responsible for the automation of the United States Post Office’s mail handling. Today, over 600,000,000 pieces of mail are delivered each business day, and our mail can take as little as one day to reach its destination. Back in 1799, it could take three weeks for a letter to travel from Lexington, Massachusetts to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The cost of mail was relatively much higher back then. It cost twenty-five cents to send a letter 450 miles – not much less than it costs today to send a letter anywhere in the country, and in considerably less time!
Today, many of us in the United States expect to have our mail delivered to our homes and offices at no extra charge. Before July 1, 1863, city residents had to pay to have a postal worker bring their mail to them; rural customers had to travel to pick up their own mail for another 30 years. Zip codes wouldn't have helped much in those days.
Many famous Americans have been postal workers. Benjamin Franklin is known as “The Father of the United States Postal Service.” Abraham Lincoln was postmaster of New Salem, Illinois in the 1830’s, and it is rumored that he personally delivered mail by carrying it in his hat along with a list of delivery places. Harry S. Truman was postmaster of Grandview, Missouri for a time. William Faulkner was postmaster of the University of Mississippi Post Office.
Perhaps the most romantic era in our United States postal history is that of the Pony Express. Before then, stagecoaches took more than 20 days to deliver mail from coast to coast. In 1860, William H. Russell bought strong horses and put a listing for good horseback riders in newspaper ads that read: “Wanted: Young, skinny, wiry fellows not over 18. Must be expert riders willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred.” Russell’s Pony Express was in service for 18 months, cutting the time it took for mail delivery coast to coast in half. The service closed in 1861 when telegraph lines connecting the coasts were finished being laid, allowing people to send information much faster and cheaper than they could by Pony Express.
The history of the United States Post Office is filled with fascinating data and amusing facts. Did you know the first Post Office in the United States was actually a tavern? Or that the United States employed camels to deliver mail over deserts in the Southwest? Or that one of the first airmail deliveries involved a three mile flight, and that the pilot dropped the bag of mail from the flying plane to a postmaster waiting below?
Zip Codes didn’t come into use until 1963. Their inventor, Robert Aurand Moon, is known as the “Father of ZIP Codes” and was nicknamed “Mr. ZIP Code.” Another character also went by this name: the lovable cartoon ambassador, Mr. Zip or Mr. Zippy, who some think was largely responsible for the success of United States ZIP code compliance.
And just what are ZIP Codes? And how does the United States Post Office use them? What do the numbers stand for? Where does the ZIP code data come from? How about the ZIP + 4 Codes? There’s plenty to learn about the Zoning Improvement Plan Codes!
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