How the Post Office Created America: A History

Amid all the wrangling over the fate of the USPS, here’s a look at the post office, how it came to be, and, frankly, where it went wrong.

Until 1966, it was an agency of the federal government, even a part of the Cabinet. And since then, it’s run a massive deficit.

How the Post Office Created America: A History

Actually, it pretty much has ALWAYS run a deficit, because of what its mission was: carry mail to every corner of the country, no matter what. And it was spectacularly successful, despite all the challenges, of distance, prices and aging equipment.

Another constant challenge was the spoils system, whereby winning political parties handed out postmaster jobs all over the nation, to people that had no idea how to do the job.

It’s all here, from postal roads and development of highways in the country, how the railroads helped, the coming of the telegraph, and even the side story of the Pony Express. But it started sliding backward, falling behind on technology.

Finally, it was cut loose, and tried to catch up, but “mistakes were made.” The government-run corporation shed its spoils jobs, but was stuck in old buildings with old equipment. The rising cost of the workforce hurt – when this was written, 80% of the USPS budget went to worker salaries and benefits – and those responsible for oversight lacked political will to fix it.

And even with years of warnings, the USPS got caught flatfooted by email, instead of leading the charge.

As it stands, the future of the USPS is up in the air, due to more than just politics. But its history is rich and gives insight to the growth of the U.S.

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