- Published: 01 July 2008
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John Bernhardt, age 10, of Freeport, Ill., for his question:
WHEN DID THE UNITED STATES POSTAL SERVICE START?
The first indication of an official American postal system appeared in 1639. In that year, the Massachusetts colony gave a man named Richard Fairbanks permission to receive and dispatch ship mail at his home in Boston. He was paid one cent for every letter he handled. The Boston Post Road was so named because of the postal system begun along it in 1672.
In 1692, King William II of Great Britain gave a man named Thomas Neale the monopoly on all postal services in the colonies. The colonists disliked this postal system because the authorities could open their mail to see if it contained evidence of disloyalty to the king. Postage was also high and, to the colonists, it represented a tax.
Benjamin Franklin was the first great name in American postal service. He served as co deputy postmaster general of the colonies from 1753 to 1774. The Second Continental Congress appointed him the first American postmaster general in 1775.
When the United States was being formed, George Washington insisted on developing an efficient mail service and he personally helped in surveying post routes to speed the mails.
In 1782, the Congress of the Confederation guaranteed the mail service as a symbol of freedom by decreeing that private letters could not be opened or delayed by postal authorities. Before, the mail service had been chiefly for government use and private citizens who used it ran the risk of having their mail opened and read.
In 1789, the first postmaster general to serve under the United States Constitution was man named Samual Osgood. At that time, the nation had 75 post offices and fewer than 2,000 miles of post roads.
The postmaster general became a member of the President's Cabinet in 1829.
Adhesive postage stamps were introduced in the United States in 1847. Registry service began in 1855.
The Pony Express was perhaps the most colorful development in the history of United States mail. For 18 months in 1860 and 1861, Pony Express riders carried mail from St. Joseph, Mo., to Sacramento, Calif.
The daring Pony Express riders reduced the time for delivering mail from the East Coast to the West Coast from 24 days to about 10 days.
The Pony Express service ended with completion of the transcontinental telegraph in 1861.
In 1863, letters were first carried free of charge to homes and businesses. The service started in 49 cities and soon spread throughout the nation.
In 1864, railway post offices started operating. Clerks sorted mail in special cars while the train was moving. The sacks were tossed from the moving train to the platform.
In 1864, the post office also began selling money orders. Postal cards first appeared in 1873 and special delivery service came in 1885.