U.S. Postal Service: Back to the future?
The U.S. Postal Service has proposed to close 252 mail-processing plants to help cut costs.
December 5th, 2011
03:47 PM ET

U.S. Postal Service: Back to the future?

To save money, the U.S. Postal Service is proposing to deliver mail at about the same speed it delivered mail when it was first founded, back in 1775.

That’s not how postal officials framed the news. But that’s what their announcement amounts to. We did the math.

First, back to the future.

The year - 1775. There is no United States. Just a bunch of Colonies with a dream. Britain’s the enemy. News travels slowly. And that’s a problem for the generals of the future America, especially George Washington. They needed to communicate as quickly as possible with people all over the Colonies.

Benjamin Franklin knows well the importance of a postal service to achieving independence. Because, when Franklin was 31, he was put in charge of the postal service from England to the Colonies. When the Colonies rebelled, England dismantled that service.

Franklin convinced the Continental Congress to create a U.S. Post Office. It put him in charge.

So was born the Continental Post, in 1775, when Franklin was 69.

Fast-forward 236 years.

The U.S. Postal Service announced Monday that it’s losing so much money - 5 billion a year - that it must make serious cutbacks that will slow the delivery time of first-class mail. It currently goes door to door in one to three days. The future slower pace would be two to five days.

Back when our nation was founded, mail was delivered on horseback. Average speed, around four miles an hour. So for Thomas Jefferson to get a first-class letter or a newspaper (which is a large number of stories printed on a bulky collection of paper) from, say, Philadelphia to his wife, Martha, back home in Monticello, Virginia, took roughly two to five days.

And soon, if the Postal Service’s new proposal is accepted, if you live in, say, Philadelphia, and want to send a first-class letter to a friend in Monticello, Virginia, it will take about two to five days.

Brand new age. Same old speed.

Ah, you say. But now we have instant mail. E-mail. And overnight deliveries are guaranteed by UPS and FedEx and any number of private services.

Which leads to a question of national importance.

When our nation was founded, a national postal service was considered a matter of national security.

Is it still today?

For that, we are reaching out to top national security experts.

Check this link later Monday, and you’ll find out what they say.

That’s fast delivery.

soundoff (308 Responses)
  1. Willow

    There appears to be mismanagement of money by the postal service. They also need to review their retirement policies by forcing those that are due to retire in 5 to 10 years an early retirement to save cost. Basically the postal service needs restructuring and reorganization.

    December 7, 2011 at 6:47 am | Report abuse |
  2. Randy Johnson

    The postal service is important; it continuation requires support from the public and the congress and the postal unions. Perhaps individuals should realize that automatic bill payments are quick and easy but writing the check and mailing it keeps control of bank accounts in the hands of the individual. The congress demands that small offices operating at a loss remain open. It demands that health benefits for future employees be paid now. "Just don't close the office in my congressional district." The postal unions must realize that there are so many changes that must occur in any company; living in the past is the fastest path to dissolution.

    December 7, 2011 at 8:56 am | Report abuse |
  3. drclive

    Around the mid 1990's the USPS started their on-line bill payer service. It was radical: You could pay bills on the Internet electronically overnight for about the price of a first class stamp. Since I was a global traveler then, it was a tremendous boon to my paying bills on time.

    Then they sold it to a private company, CheckFree. I guess it didn't fit with the startegy (assuming they had one). There goes the stamp revenue, and the electronic equivalent. Now virtually ever bank offers it. But they blew off years worth of electronic stamp revenue before the banks took over the market.

    I think their fundamental flaw is their business strategy. Many of the foreign post offices are "Post & Telecommunications". The USPS has always seen themselves being in the MAIL and PARCEL business and not in the COMMUNICATIONS business (which includes mail and other forms of communications). UPS and FEDEX are eating their lunch in the parcel business; so given that narrow strategy what's left for the USPS than mail? Too bad they have such a narrow, "going out of business" strategy.

    December 7, 2011 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Dan

    So now we are relegated to having a postal service on par with many third world countries. The politicians and corporations are dismantling our infrastructure. Ultimately they will either declare martial law, or they will just abscond with their profits to another country leaving the majority of us with nothing but debt and a burned out wasteland.

    December 9, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Vic Johnson

    So now that the powers that be have decided that the United States Postal Service should operate as a profitable business they need to take a look at other profitable businesses and act accordingly.

    When the gasoline companies need to make a profit they raise the price of their product. When the bread companies need to make a profit and continue to remain in business they raise the price of their bread. Any business that intends to stay in business has to be profitable and they do this by increasing the price of their product.

    First class mail is a bargain at its present price. Try to mail a letter by way of Fedex or UPS for that price.

    It makes no sense to cut back on services when service is your business.

    This is an exercise in poor judgement on the part of the management of the U.S. Postal Service.

    December 11, 2011 at 11:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. helpusall

    The postal service is indeed filled with many financial problems. The uncertainty not knowing whats going to happen is causing a hostile envoirment no thanks to the union (APWU). Our own union just raised our dues and do absolutely nothing.

    January 5, 2012 at 7:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. 1960vw

    Oh, and the internet is soooo secure!!! Quote: "When our nation was founded, a national postal service was considered a matter of national security."

    April 21, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Report abuse |
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