Monday, February 11, 2013

A Little Post Office History

With Saturday mail delivery on its way out, historian Richard John, author of Spreading the News: The American Postal System from Franklin to Morse, provides us with some Post Office history. He argues that the Post Office "is a public service with a civic mandate central to American business, society, and civic culture--not a business."

Here is a taste of his recent piece in The New York Times:

Relatively few city dwellers go to the post office to pick up their mail, but in countless hamlets and small towns, the local post office remains a vital community center. For millions of workers, including veterans and African-Americans, a job at the post office has been a ticket to the middle class and has provided a pension and medical care to retirees. The Postal Service is the country’s second largest civilian employer, after Walmart.

Postal correspondence is far more secure than e-mail and far less vulnerable to cyberattack. By capitalizing on its expertise in scheduling and high-volume sorting, the Postal Service has the potential to become a big platform for digital commerce. It helped pioneer optical character recognition, now a widely used technology. But Congress and regulations have frustrated the post office from issuing secure e-mail addresses and expanding by providing same-day service for digital retailers, for example, while obliging it to bankroll money-losing operations like six-day delivery.