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. Marty McFly

    My mailman is going to deliver my mail in a time machine – made out of a Delorean?

    December 5, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Joey Isotta-Fraschini

    Are they going to stop using airplanes, or fire some workers?
    If not, what the PO is announcing is a Slow-Down work action.

    December 5, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Allen

      No, what they are proposing is to close over half of their mail-sorting centers. So letters will actually have to travel further to get to and from the centers. It does make sense; the article discusses the efficiencies of these centers (currently running mail-sorting machines only ~6-6.5 hours a day vs 16-20 under the new plan). Net effect however will be many laid-off workers that worked in the to-be-closed facilities.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
  3. SjSchafer

    The postal service is slow compared to what OTHER country? Check out the service in Mexico, Africa, even the UK..it costs a whole lot more for postage in Europe.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Chedar

    They can slow down as much as they want but for some reason I got the whole neighborhood's mail at thd end of thd day. and I have to do the work for them to do the final distribution. This is how bad the post office becomes

    December 5, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. seandog

    thank goodness the government wont step and bail these guys out. last thing in the world that i want is some pompous, over paid, nere-do-well delivering my mail. maybe all those big-corporate fatcats who work for the usps will finally take the hint that government employees dont need minimum wage. in fact, they should just pay them in the joy that comes from delivering mail from the comfort of their door to door walking shoes. or in gum......but nobody ever pays me in gum....

    December 5, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • AzPatriot

      @ seandog:???... your post made absolutely no sense.
      are you trying to be funny?

      December 5, 2011 at 8:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • JL

      I never get paid in gum either!! 😦

      December 6, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jimbo

    So the junk mail and census will get delived a few days later. No wonder the postal people go nuts, they bust their rears to deliver us worthless ads and get threated with layoffs...doesn't sound like a very rewarding career.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • ????

      They are well paid for their time and have a better retirement and benefit package by far than private industry. Cry me a river.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  7. emily

    Chedar is 100 percent right. I get all my neighbors mail and they get mine. Once or twice a week we meet and swap. US mail service is miserably bad.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anon

    Your math may be right under those conditions, but if the USPS is still sending mail from Boston to LA in 2 to 5 days, that's a lot faster then horseback could do....

    I think your exaggerating how bad that is. Your point of whether Mail is critical given email is valid.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
  9. emily

    Thank goodness for UPS and FEDEX. They are fast, friendly, and on time.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • corby42

      UPS Delivery overnight letter 20 miles – pick-up by 4:30P deliver by 3:00P $19.55. Same letter, same distance, same schedule Postal Serves – $.44. I've used USPS for over 20 years to deliver packages & letters with never a miss or damaged shipment. I've used UPS for 15 years and lost hundreds of dollars in damaged goods and missed shipments. Please don't even compare the two...
      Everyone can pull up a bad experience with USPS, UPS or FedEx. But the best value, with equal service and reliability is the US Postal Service, without doubt. Maybe if they began to compete closer to the price of the others, we wouldn't be talking about cut-backs.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan Smith

      @emily: I guess you weren't aware of the fact that the post office delivers FedEx and UPS parcels the "Last Mile" if either of those businesses had to transport end-to-end every piece that they have, it would cost alot more than it currently does. Oh, and by the way, compare rates on a "like" item from Point A to Point B via all 3 companies and you'll see that the Post Office is significantly cheaper.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    So what took 1 to 2 days @ $.44/ea., is now going to take 2 to 5 days @ $.22/ea., right? Cutting thier $5 billion deficit in half, right? So any business statement, is going to have to wait to get thier money...right? HORSEPUCKY !!!

    December 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Err... So exactly what do you want to have happen? You don't want them to raise rates. That much is obvious. You don't want them to actually ya know, make a living wage. That much is also obvious. You probably want them to get rid of 'waste' without saying what part of it is waste. You also don't want the government to give them a hand (even though the government controls what they do). So you want them to trim a *lot* of money, a lot of people, and a lot of overhead and you *still* want mail delivered in the same amount of time. What sort of magical world do you live in where this sort of thing is possible?

      December 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

      Chris – How much do "you" think they'll charge for a piece of mail, allowing themselves to backslide 2 to 5 days. I think most will take thier business elsewhere.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. jen

    The people that work the desk at our post office must be the rudest in the world. If they worked anywhere else they would be fired. Mail people are rude bungholes.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    If Mac the Mailman was still around...he'd puke. 😉

    December 5, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Mr. Myxlptlkx


    December 5, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      Wait, you want a national do not mail list. This would raise revenue for the post office *how*? If their bulk mail volume dropped by say, 50%, where would they make up that income? By doubling their rates? Don't you think that would cause a further drop in volume? I like the sentiment but the execution will leave a lot to be desired.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:56 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jeff Frank (R-Ohio) "Right Wing Insanity"

    Some of my bills end up in a neighbor's box down the road. IT IS A FEDERAL OFFENSE FOR MY NEIGHBOR TO PUT MY MISDELIVERED MAIL THEY RECIEVED AND INSERT IT INTO OUR BOX. Rather, they are supposed to "mark it – delivered to wrong address", then put it back in thier box and put the flag up. NO. THEY SIMPLY PUT MY ELECTRIC BILL IN THE TRASH. 😡

    December 5, 2011 at 4:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • JIM


      December 6, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. doug

    winter in New England. My mail delivery person refuses to come up my driveway from January through March regardless of whether or not there is any snow on it.
    and my neighbors mailbox is 6 feet from mine and I still get his mail.
    BUT, we cannot cut any of those union jobs or future pension benefits.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris R

      You do know that letter carriers can be dismissed, reprimanded, and or reassigned right? Its not like they can't be touched. You do have to *consistently* let the post office know that the mail is being mis=delivered and you have to complain to the right people. Call 1-800-ASK-USPS and give them all of the information – names dates, addresses so forth. The local office has to respond to your complain within 24 hours. If you haven't been complaining about your bad delivery then it's no wonder it hasn't been fixed. So stop whining and do something.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Report abuse |
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