Getting a letter out on the frontier was a rare and very precious thing. Those messages from home were treasured and read over and over until sometimes the paper was so thin and the words illegible. But today they’ve become practically non-existent with email and the Internet.
We’re all familiar with postage stamps and gripe when the price goes up. There’s also been a lot of talk lately about the desperate situation the U.S. Postal Service is in today and fears that they may go bankrupt. I sincerely hope not since my son works for the post office here.
The U.S. Post Office came into being in 1775 when Ben Franklin was appointed postmaster general. In those days it was the recipient, not the sender, who paid the cost to mail a letter. This was a less than ideal situation since often the recipient couldn’t be located or else they refused to accept the letter and it had to be returned.
The first adhesive postage stamp ever produced in the U.S. was introduced in 1842 when a private enterprise carrier service called “City Despatch Post” began to operate in New York City. However, a few months after it came into being it was sold to the United States government.
Congress Establishes Uniform Postal Rates
On March 3, 1845, an Act of Congress established uniform postal rates throughout the nation with a uniform rate of five cents for distances under 300 miles. But still each city issued their own stamps.
The first national stamps came into existence in 1847 when Congress passed another act and declared all the city issued stamps invalid. An engraver was hired and production took off. (Above are the first national stamps issued.)
A 5-cent stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 ounce and traveling less than 300 miles.
A 10-cent stamp was required for 2 ounces or less or to places over 300 miles.
By 1851 the Postal Service had increased its revenue so much that Congress dropped the 1 ounce, 300 mile rate to 3 cents and it stayed that way for over 30 years. Hard to believe.
When the Civil War broke out it threw the entire postal service in disarray. The Confederate States wouldn’t accept the Northern stamps and vice-versa. The public didn’t know where to turn. And they had no idea when they mailed a letter if it would reach its destination or not.
In 1860, the U.S. Post Office used the Pony Express to get mail to and from the West Coast. The Pony Express Trail was an exhausting 1,840 miles long. But this was a short-lived venture, lasting only 18 months.
FYI: In 1873 the Post Office began producing a pre-stamped post card.
Ten years later, the first-class letter rate changed from 3 cents to 2 cents. That prompted the issuance of new stamps. The 2 cent ones were brown.
It’s hard to believe that we pay 45 cents today to mail a first class letter, no matter the distance it has to travel. And the Postal Service is going broke. It seems computers and technology is putting them out of business. And that’s sad. I wonder what Ben Franklin would think about that.
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