Postal Service (USPS), United States
The United States Postal Service (USPS) is an independent government agency that collects and disseminates the mail to millions of homes and businesses across the country.
In the early days of America, colonists had to either ferry their own mail or rely on messengers and merchants to carry their letters and packages. The first official postal service emerged in 1639, when Richard Fairbanks' Boston tavern became the repository of all mail sent from abroad. The postal service was initially run by the British, but in 1775, America's Continental Congress voted to establish its own postal system, with Benjamin Franklin as its first postmaster general. By the 1780s, the postal system consisted of seventy-five post offices and about twenty-six post riders. The first postage stamps were introduced in 1847.
Over the next two centuries, the postal service expanded and evolved. Americans' westward expansion gave rise to the Pony Express in the 1860s, a team of horse-riding letter carriers who distributed the mail between Missouri and California. Over the years, letter carriers traded in their horses for faster means of transportation: trains, steamboats, and trucks. With the introduction of the airplane in the early 1900s, the Postal Service could for the first time deliver mail quickly and affordably across the oceans.
The next major overhaul to the postal system occurred on August 12, 1970, when President Richard Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act. The Act replaced the old Post Office Department with the U.S. Postal Service. It was designed to make the service run more like a business and less like a government agency. Today, the USPS is directed by an eleven-member Board of Governors, led by a Postmaster General. Postage rates and service fees are decided upon by an independent Postal Rate Commission.
Every day, the USPS handles more than 680 million pieces of mail. The Postal Service relies on the revenue from these deliveries to survive, because it does not receive funding from taxpayer dollars. To protect its customers from mail theft, mail fraud, and other criminal activities involving the mail, the USPS has its own law enforcement agency, called the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. This agency works closely with federal law enforcement officials to ensure that the mail service is safe.
In October 2001, mail security became a matter of national urgency. Following the discovery of anthraxtainted letters, which ultimately infected twenty-two people and killed five in the northeastern United States, the USPS announced that it was adopting tighter security measures. Many postal facilities were outfitted with state-of-the-art irradiation systems, which sanitize the mail using the same radiation technology that protects the food supply from bacterial contaminants. Also installed were vacuum/filtration cleaning systems to remove hazardous particles from sorting machines.
█ FURTHER READING:
Bolick, Nancy O'Keefe. Mail Call!: The History of the U.S. Mail Service. Danbury, CT: Franklin Watts, Incorporated, 1994.
Kule, Elaine A. The U.S. Mail (Transportation and Communication Series). Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2002.
The United States Postal Service. < http://www.usps.com/ > (December 20, 2002).