Snail Mail

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Nothing says Happy Holidays more personally than a hand-signed, snail mail Christmas card. That’s one reason the US Postal Service (USPS) reported fiscal year 2006 revenue in excess of $72 billion despite competition from telephones, fax machines and e-mail.

During the same reporting period, the USPS employed more than 770,000 people working out of 39,000 facilities. Thanks to zip codes and automation, the USPS handles hundreds of millions of messages each day.

Yet the beginnings were humble. Postal history in the “colonies” began in 1639. That year, Massachusetts designated a Boston tavern as the first authorized mail drop for letters going and coming from Europe.

In 1775, the Continental Congress established the Post Office Department. Benjamin Franklin, appointed as Postmaster General, got this predecessor to the US Post Office off to a running start.

For the next two hundred years, the Post Office operated as a federal agency reliant on taxpayers for funding. But after 1970s Postal Reorganization Act, the agency became semi-independent. Stamp sales, along with other business ventures and limited tax dollars, support what’s now called the US Postal Service.

Of course, modernization has costs. In 1863, you could mail a half-ounce letter for three cents. Depending on the destination, it would arrive anywhere from overnight to four weeks later. Today, a $0.39 stamp gets a one ounce letter from sender to receiver in two or three days.

And tomorrow? Postage rates are expected to rise again in 2007, so sending your snail mail Happy Holiday greetings will cost you about three cents more next December.

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