The Postal Service Used to Make Multiple Deliveries Per Day

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Letter carrier collecting mail, 1947. (Smithsonian Institution Flickr)

The Post Master General says that he has no choice but to cut Saturday mail delivery given the billions of dollars of debt in which the organization finds itself.

But there was a time when the Postal Service delivered many, many times each day. From horseback to trains, and stage coaches to planes, the U.S. Postal Service has a history as long and diverse as the country it serves. Nancy Pope, curator and historian at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, is very familiar with postal history in the United States.


Nancy A. Pope

Produced by:

Jen Poyant

Comments [17]

Jacqui Cousin from New York

In August 2012, I was trying to do some housecleaning and get rid of old things to make room for our baby. I found many, many letters that brought memories back from times when my friends would write me notes in cards or when my mom would send me silly cards, but most importantly, I still have letters from my little sister. She wrote me about three times back in 2001 while she was in rehab for drug abuse. My sister was murdered in 2002. I keep these letters with all her pictures. I don't have copies of any emails she sent me and those letters are probably the most special thing I have as a memory of my little sister who I miss every day.

Feb. 09 2013 04:15 PM

I decided this morning to write a hand-written, personal letter to a friend or family member and mail one each Saturday until the Saturday mail deliveries are discontinued in August. I used to write many, many letters but now my only hand-written ones are thank you notes and notes jotted on Christmas cards. I hope to get some responses but that's not the point of my project. Thanks for airing this program and inspiring me to get out my stationery and write!

Feb. 09 2013 02:01 PM
Elissa from New Jersey

Three weeks after a dear friend died, I received a thank-you note from her. She had written notes to the special people in her life and asked her family to mail them once she was gone. I've rarely been so moved by anything in my life.

Feb. 08 2013 04:03 PM
Alice Kintisch from Nyack, NY

Way back when (more than 40 years ago) my then boyfriend (now my husband of 40+ years) wrote me a letter from college (when he should have been studying -- but that's another story!) on an adding machine tape -- very long and very skinny. I treasured it as an indication of his wacky sense of humor, and I have it to this day in a box in our basement.

Feb. 08 2013 01:34 PM
Kay from Boston

I have kept every letter from every friend and relative - I always tease my friends that I am hoping one of them (or many of them) become famous and I'll be able to live off the sale of their high school and college letters. But I also treasure the one letter I ever received from my father (who died the same year, fifty years ago)explaining the history of St. Croix where he was training.

Feb. 08 2013 12:04 PM

We estimate over 40B letters past are unaccounted for in the digital world, which puts them at risk from preservation or in some cases never being shared socially for family and future generations. The cloud platform for letters called is bringing new technology to bear to not only restore letters past but reinvent new letters, deliverable via paper post or in the cloud. Letter writing is not dying; it is just evolving as still a timeless and valued medium for meaningful correspondence. The larger question is how will we find time to write when so many other distractions are in our midst. Letter will always matter because people do.

lettrs, for people who wish to think about what they write.

Feb. 08 2013 11:17 AM
marvin purser from Parkway Christian Church, 200 Flamingo Rd. Davie, Fl

The congregation at our church was unaware that someone in the audience was writing down the names of everyone present and then all week wrote each of them a letter to tell them how much she appreciated them for who they were.

The following week, my wife, Connie, took names again, and everyone who was not there the Sunday before, got a personal note as well.

Each note was slow-mailed with the usual U.S. stamp.

This was a couple of years ago and to this day, someone still comes up to her and says something like this: "Do you know that I have kept that note with me since you wrote it? Every so often, I see it in my purse and I take it out and read it and it still means so much to me."

Our attendance runs about 140 weekly.

Feb. 08 2013 10:13 AM
Larry from Nyack

This week I heard that my dad’s cousin, only 15 years my elder, was in hospice with cancer and too far away to visit. I sat down to write him a letter with a note to his wife to please read it to him. I didn’t mention illness, but said a few thank you’s. I thanked him for bringing me joy as a poor little boy with the hand-me-down toys he was able and willing to give me. I thanked him for choosing public service in Washington. I thanked him for his family, my great aunt and uncle whose love and kindness to my family will always be remembered. And I told him that I don’t believe in an afterlife, but that immortality lasts as long as people like me remember him with love.

I put a “fight breast cancer” stamp on the letter and walked it to the post office so that he might get it this week.

Feb. 08 2013 10:02 AM
Nancy from Pleasant Ridge

I have been writing letters to my daughter and son for the past 26 years. I write one a year to each child to review, in my observation what has happened in the past year for them (as well as me). I have yet to give these letters to them, they are sealed, dated and stored. I am sure it will be an interesting read for them as well as myself if I am around when they receive them. Still have not decided when that will be :)

Feb. 08 2013 09:50 AM
Stan from Manhattan

In the age of social media, our communication has become so disjointed and immediate that many, especially the young, are losing the ability to articulate and express complete thoughts. Thus, one less day of sending and receiving letters is a severe blow to society’s future ability to meaningfully communicate. The answer lies in bridging the technological aspects of social media with the elegance of a letter. The site is doing this right now. It’s a social network where you can send a digital letter and curate letters from the past, proudly displaying them on your virtual fridge. You can even store your private letters in your virtual shoe box.

Feb. 07 2013 04:55 PM
Sarah from Jersey City

I recently found a letter from my grandmother that died over a decade ago. I thought that I had lost them all in my numerous moves. It was so wonderful to see her handwriting.

Feb. 07 2013 03:51 PM
Elizabeth from New Jersey

The stopping of Saturday delivery doesn't mean hand written letters will stop. It will just mean they won't be delivered on Saturdays. There also seems to be a confusion that electronic communications are not letters. Much of my husband and my courtship was communicated in letters over email and I've saved everyone. I go back and look at them frequently. They are things that I will always have with me and I'll never have to worry about packing them when we move.

Feb. 07 2013 03:50 PM
Andrea Shane from NYC

I recently cleaned out BOXES of letters that I have saved since high school...I felt so awful tossing them into the recycle bin until I hit upon the idea of sending them to the people who had sent them to me. People had a blast (and I'm sure it was quite bittersweet as well) reading them and remembering events from 20-30 years ago. They also loved sharing them with their kids who were amazed that people used to hand write pages and pages documenting life

Feb. 07 2013 03:49 PM
Kent from Hells Kitchen

Your postal museum expert was incorrect. 1829-31 in Jacksonian America saw fierce debate over separation of church and state focussed on whether mail should be delivered on Sundays.

Feb. 07 2013 03:45 PM
Zac from Butler NJ

I recently hand wrote a letter to my 93 year old grandfather. He lives in Northeast PA and I in Northern NJ. I then received a hand written letter from him a few days afterwards. Yes I could've emailed him, but it seemed more personal and connecting than an email ever could. It was a great warm feeling knowing that his hands touched the paper and laid down the loving reply. I love the intimacy and the anticipation of a letter sent through the mail. And, with my grandfather as old as he is it gave me one more lasting memory of him.

Feb. 07 2013 03:30 PM
Jim Domke from Arlington, TX

Mail delivered 6x/day!? Email isn't as revolutionary as I thought. I've also heard that initially the sender didn't need to put a stamp on the letter the receiving person paid to get the letter. First roads in America were to help get mail out, air-mail led to getting radios in airplanes and airports, and savings accounts were pioneered by the Post Office to get the mail out.

Feb. 07 2013 12:54 PM
chris burgess from Saint Clair

Of course, everyone forgets the long, nasty, horrible letters that have been sent, but we tend to romanticize the past.

Feb. 07 2013 10:11 AM

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