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. Josh

    If the USPS is going to back to 1775 delivery service, then they should also go back to 1775 pay and 1775 benefits.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:09 am | Report abuse |
    • Tank2

      How about going back to 1775 RATES?

      December 6, 2011 at 10:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve1959

      Actually Tank, the rates would be about ten dollars per page, accounting for the rate of inflation. It costs .25 cents per page if the letter was going more that 300 miles back then.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  2. Guest

    The reason mail was so successful back when is because all those companies didnt exist to mail out tons of garbage like I get every day.Ads for new home windows,carpet cleaning,new car tires.
    Do I really need to get ads every day for stuff I never use?why does it seem like most of the jobs out there are just busywork that dont really accomplish anything anymore?

    December 6, 2011 at 10:10 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      Business does most correspondence by email and so does government and ordinary folks. This has cut down severly on the monopoly of letter delivery the post office has. So what is left is a lot of junk mail and some bills . That is why they a losing $5 billion per year. They are staffed and operate like it is still 1960. The post office will be forced to downsize simply because they are eating up too many tax dollars to justify leaving it alone.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
  3. 2bits

    It's better to send bits than send mail!

    December 6, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
  4. Curtisb

    100% the fault of politicians. They expect the USPS to at least break even, but then tie their hands so they're unable to do so. I don't normally hate on the government for regulating, but this is pretty much the poster child for government run a muck.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:12 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      The USPS is just way too big for the lower demand of its services today. At its curent size it couldn't make money if it was run by UPS or FedEx. The only thing the politicans need to do is let the post office be cut down in size and buget to meet the deman of today. It will have to be cut even more in the future. The need for post office services is going away more each year – in time so will the need for the post office. Times change and that forces everything else to change – unless you let the Federal Government bailout the post office with $5 billion each year with even more in the future.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:39 am | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      The PO is part of the government and one of the only parts of the government not funded by taxpayers. That's saying something. It seems as though everyone is so eager for so many Americans to lose their jobs.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      The yearly loss of $5 billion dollars is funded by the taxpayers – where do you think the money comes form to cover the loses. Losing $5 billion a year is what really saids something – it is too big for the demand. Yes people will lose post office jobs and it is sad. But using $5 billion in taxpayer money to cover loses is just a waste and that money could be used to accomplish something useful which would create new useful jobs. Times chang and cahnge is not always good for all people – but there is no stopping it.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
  5. Flasher9

    Pony express coming back..

    December 6, 2011 at 10:23 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jay Alt

    My readings of history tell me that letters took far longer than 5 days to travel from NE to the South in the new US.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      Yes, I think this article is an exaggeration, which is really not responsible. Many people already believe post office employees to be lazy and unworthy. This article will just add fuel to the fire for these morons.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      It is not a matter of anyone being lazy or useless – it is a matter of losing $5 billion a year with no end in sight. It is irresposible to let anything lose $5 billion per year and not do something to stop it. I understand you fear for your job – but things cannot go on as they have. It is way past time for drastic cuts to the post office expenses. There are 5 billion reasons why it has to be done.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:16 am | Report abuse |
  7. Oldeye

    It had to happen. If you look carefully, your daily mail consists of 98% junk mail. The junk mail costs next to
    nothing for the senders. The USPS is funded by tax payers so it is not wrong to say that the tax payers
    are funding the advertisers loading up the USPS for next to nothing. Not to mention the environmental damages
    caused by this stupidity. We have internet age and yet the junk mail has been increasing in volume. This is true
    at least for our house of two persons.

    December 6, 2011 at 10:37 am | Report abuse |
    • Lee

      Taxpayers do not fund the PO. Do a little research before you start posting.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Ed

      The taxpayers cover the $5 billion the post office lost this year and all the loses from the past years. Let's not play the word game that the post office is "independent" – with the money it loses if it was really independent the doors would have closed a long time ago. Tax dollars keep the doors open and at $5 billion a year it is just not worth the money.

      December 6, 2011 at 10:55 am | Report abuse |
    • EKOeko

      If the USPS weren't required by law to OVERFUND it's pension account, it would be a lot better off, by about $50 billion. The Office of Personnel Management is responsible for determining the Postal Service’s contribution to its pension accounts. The report found that OPM’s calculations were appropriate based on 1974 legislation, but the Postal Regulatory Commission is recommending the agency adopt more modern methods of allocating funds.

      December 6, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. Bob

    You know, 2 days is still pretty impressive. The mail is a valuable service; let's hope they can sort things out!

    December 6, 2011 at 10:40 am | Report abuse |
  9. rollaboy

    To me, this is a nobrainer solution. If you know your letter won't get there overnight, then you mail it earlier. It's as simple as that. If you need it overnight, buck up and pay for UPS, Fed Ex, DHL, etc and get it there in the time you need. If I get mail 2-3 times a week, that's good enough for the average household. Businesses may be different, but for the typical house, they don't need mail delivered or picked up every day (except Sun). The USPS needs to run a lot more efficiently. They run their sorting machines for only a few hours a day. All that money sitting idle for over 50% of the time. Run it more efficiently.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
  10. Bill

    For the uninformed – the majority of USPS's fiscal problems have nothing to do with their prices and/or services. It simply has to do with Congress' requirement that USPS essentially has to double fund their pension and benefit payments. If Congress removed that requirement, it would alleviate the majority of USPS' financial stress.

    As for their services, I run a small business, ship out several thousand pieces of mail each year (none of it junk mail), and always use USPS. They are slightly less reliable than FedEx (and more reliable than UPS), and far more cost effective. I like how people are whining because it might take a week for a letter to get across the country, but for 45 cents, even that's a bargain. FedEx charges $ 15 for three-day service, so if you need it there sooner, you can always pay the 3000% increase.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  11. Ed

    The USPS has way more post offices, processing centers, manpower and machinery then they need given the volume of mail today – that is the problem. The only way to fix it is to cut back on all of these. As demand lowers more – the more cut backs needed. Just changing times and changing needs. Even the politicans will have to face reality and finally do what has to be done.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  12. kdf

    I think we all need to step back and take a look at what we had back in the day. I see our postal service being eliminated and this is not a good thing. Think about it, once its gone, how do you send a card, write a letter, send a package? I remember the days of getting so excited to get the mail just to see who sent a letter or card. How fun it was to get mail. It is not nearly as fun to get email and e-cards... crap. They are so not personal and cookie cutter like everyones homes anymore. people need to start being an individual again and start thinking just like the post office... go back in time 236 years. forget email.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:34 am | Report abuse |
  13. Spenser A

    How much money does the USPS waste every year designing and printing new stamps? There is no reason that we need stamps printed with flags, flowers, birds, trees, "Love" Young Elvis, Old Elvis, and Jumpsuit Elvis. One design for each denomination should be sufficient to last forever. Perhaps continue the holiday stamps, but that should be it.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • Ronda

      When newly designed stamps come out, particularly of Elvis and the like, stamp collectors purchase them, but never use them. This is money the post office gets for service it never needs to provide. It's a win for the USPS.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Spenser A

      But I bet they spend more money on design and printing than they make selling.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • js

      100% correct.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Wow, you are really obtuse. When people collect stamps they are putting money in the pocket of USPS. How much effort and money do you think it takes to design a stamp that says "Love" or to put a picture on a stamp? Man, you are demented.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Catchyomom

      Spensa – get yer head out yo but

      December 6, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Terri

    Maybe if the US Post Office had reasonable hours that catered to the average American worker instead of just retirees and stay at home moms, they'd get more business. My local post office, and virtually all around me, open at 8:30 and close at 5:30. On Saturdays they open at 9 and close at 12 and there is a line out the door. I work 9 to 5 and commute, so making it to my local post office on a weekday is virtually impossible, which I imagine is the case for most workers, hence the long lines on Saturday mornings. I use UPS when I ship packages because the local UPS center is open until 8:00 p.m. on weeknights. Also, the UPS has automated doors (like the supermarkets), which is certainly convenient when you are carrying a load of packages. You know most banks finally woke up and extended their hours (too late as it turns out, who really has to go to the bank anymore since direct deposit and atm cards), why can't the post office do the same thing? They should have at least one or two nights a week where they are open until 7:00 or so, and Saturday hours should be all day. They don't even need to be open every weekday, if they were open only on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, but open until 7 or 8 p.m., I think it would make a world of difference. Also, it would be nice if the average post office worker were at least friendly.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Raynell Napier

      The Postal system is NOT user friendly!! My post office closes at 4:00 pm! and opens at 8:30 am. No wonder they are in toruble!!

      December 6, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave C

      Well Said, Terri! I find the Post Office to be completely useless because it, like so many businesses other than retail, are only open during "normal" business hours...when 95% of their customers are working!!! Granted, it's still less expensive in most instances to send packages via USPS compared with UPS and FedEx, UPS and FedEx offer easy tracking systems and guaranteed delivery dates. Whenever I send something via USPS (rarely!) I'm always wondering where the package is and how long it'll be before the recipient receives it. As far as I'm concerned, get rid of the USPS, they're pretty much useless as it is. Then, finally, I'll stop getting junk mail that ends up right in the recycle bin.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • winter

      Many post offices have automated postage machines. I can never get to the post office during the times they're open either, so I use the automated machines. I've never had a problem with them and I can get regular stamps or sent flat rate or ship-by-weight packages.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Mike

    Operationally speaking, the USPS nets profits every year. The financial problem it faces now comes from a 2006 Congressional mandate that requires the agency to “pre-pay” into a fund that covers health care costs for future retired employees. Under the mandate, the USPS is required to make an annual $5.5 billion payment over ten years, through 2016. These “prepayments” are largely responsible for the USPS’s financial losses over the past four years and the threat of shutdown that looms ahead – take the retirement fund out of the equation, and the postal service would have actually netted $1 billion in profits over this period.

    The USPS in its current form runs like a business, relies on postage for revenue and, for the most part, has not used taxpayer money since 1982, when postage stamps became “products” instead of forms of taxation. Taxpayer money is only used in some cases to pay for mailing voter materials to disabled and overseas Americans.

    December 6, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • leftcoast

      Here we go again. The lack of a national health insurance system that covers every American leads to endless problems. Congress in its infinite wisdom decided to require the PO and only the PO to fund retiree health insurance at one time. Thus causing this problem. If only they had required every other organization to do that. But then I'm sure the Republican's corporate sponsors would have complained. When will this country ever gain some sanity and retire the Republicans and adopt a single payer, universal health, dental and vision insurance plan?

      December 6, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
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