20 Facts That Will Shatter Your Perception Of The U.S. Postal Service

Yes, I’m talking about the mail delivery service. IT GETS PRETTY WILD.

1. There is still one route left in the country where mail travels by mule.

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Supai, Ariz., is inside the Grand Canyon and only accessible by foot, pack animal, or helicopter. For mail service, the most cost-efficient of these three choices is “pack animal,” so mules make the 8-mile trip.

2. There’s a special postmark for Supai’s outgoing mail, so you’ll know your mail was carried by mules.

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3. The Post Office Department was founded in 1775 by the motherflipping Founding Fathers themselves. It is the second oldest federal department in the U.S.

Flickr: 69184488@N06 / Creative Commons

The Second Continental Congress decided “That a postmaster General be appointed for the United Colonies, who shall hold his office at [Philadelphia], and shall be allowed a salary of 1000 dollars”. The department got this swanky D.C. tower in 1899.

4. Benjamin Franklin was fired from his postmaster general gig by the British Crown in 1774. He was reappointed postmaster general by himself and other Continental Congress members in 1775.

He was one of the last postmasters general of the colonies (fired for “pernicious activities” related to the American Revolution), and he was the first of the United States.

5. George Washington was on the first general-issue stamps released in 1847; he’s been on more stamps than any other person.

The first general-issue U.S. postage stamps depicted either Benjamin Franklin or George Washington. They were the only faces on stamps until 1856.

6. Before he became president, Abraham Lincoln was a postmaster.

Public domain

He worked in Illinois from 1833 to 1836. Sometimes he himself would deliver mail, because he was a helpful sort.

7. Although mail was delivered directly to individual houses starting in 1863, mailboxes or slots weren’t required everywhere until 1923.

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Mail carriers just had to wait at your door until you answered it!

8. The first commemorative stamp was issued in 1893 to honor a white guy — a (white) woman* had her own commerorative stamp in 1902. USPS didn’t issue a stamp honoring an African American until 1940: Booker T. Washington.

Library of Congress / Via commons.wikimedia.org

*Christopher Columbus and Martha Washington, respectively.

9. In the 1930s, mail went by sailboat between Kelley’s Island and Sandusky, Ohio, 10 miles away. In bad weather, the boat went straight from the island to the nearest mainland port, a four-mile trip which could take 8 hours in bad weather.

Google Maps

Harry Elfers was contracted to deliver mail under USPS’ “star routes,” the unofficial name for mail routes run by independent contractors. Under his contract, Elfers received the same pay no matter the length of the trip.

10. Zoning similar to ZIP codes was only established after thousands of postal workers left for military service during WWII.

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USPS had to increase efficiency.

11. The Chicago Post Office shut down for a week in 1966 because, as one postmaster put it, “We had mail coming out of our ears.”

Seth Anderson / commons.wikimedia.org

This triggered the legislation that led to the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, when the Post Office Department became the United States Postal Service.

12. You know that phrase “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”? That’s not really the USPS motto. The Postal Service has no motto.

Flickr: striatic / Creative Commons

It’s inscribed on the wall in New York’s main post office, translated liberally from Herodotus. And when you think about it, it’s an unfairly high standard. What if there’s a blizzard?!

13. The Postal Service has an unofficial mascot: Owney the well-traveled terrier.

en.wikipedia.org / Public domain

Owney rode around in trains with mail.

14. Owney was put down in 1897 after he bit someone. He was stuffed and is now on display in the National Postal Museum.

en.wikipedia.org / Public domain

You can go pay your respects.

15. This has been the postal seal since 1970, but before that it was a man on a horse. And before that it was the pagan god Mercury.

Flickr: cindyfunk / Creative Commons

Postmaster General Amos Kendall decided to nix the messenger god in 1837; the man on horseback was the seal until the Postal Reorganization Act passed under President Richard Nixon in 1970.

16. The Postal Service sorts and delivers more than 700 million pieces of mail each day. Except Sunday.

Flickr: subewl / Creative Commons

17. Mail took so long to travel west in the mid-19th century that Los Angeles didn’t find out California had become a state of the Union until six weeks after the fact.

If no one in Los Angeles knows they’re in the United States, are they still in the United States?

18. The Pony Express was in operation for less than two years. Its actual name was the Overland Express Route.

Also, it’s unclear where the name “Pony Express” came from since the riders made the trip on, you know, big horses.

19. The name of the post office in Joliet, Ill., was Juliet, and then Romeo, and then Juliet again, and then Joliet.

Public domain / Via commons.wikimedia.org

The town officially changed its name from Juliet to Joliet in the 1840s, but the post office played around with its name.

20. There has never been a woman postmaster general.

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