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. Izzy

    I recently mailed a 6×9 envelope to a town that is a 45min drive from my house. The USPS took 16 days deliver it, can't wait until they slow down delivery.

    December 6, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • mike zaldivar

      That damned lazy?!? You could of got it there yourself.........................in 45 minutes!!!!!

      December 6, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  2. UtahProf

    One of the larger expenses for the Post Office is fuel. As fuel prices remain unnecessarily high (in large part because we have decided to EXPORT gasoline instead of allowing it to become cheaper – benefiting the post office, the trucking industry, consumers – in short EVERYONE who uses fuel from Wal-Mart to Walt Disney World) we can expect this downward trend to continue. Global greed WILL be the root cause of our downfall as the entire world economic system is overextended and insolvent. We have passed the point of no return (barring some SIGNIFICANT concessions to the 99% of the world) and collapse is imminent – the house of cards is coming down.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • ALC

      we export it because the demand is more than being satisfied and we have surplus gasoline. There are no gasoline shortages in this country. If we kept that excess gasoline it would not cause a drop in the price, it would just sit there. Apparently you are not an economics professor.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Reilly

      I completely agree with the greed portion of you comment. Any nation that so heavily relies on consumerizim as an economic strategy will be part of the debris field sooner or later. Living within your means is a way of life that the government hides in the attic like a crazy Aunt. I would have to disagree with the fuel portion of your equation. Petroleum industries are undoubtably headed to their inevitable extinction, but long before that situation has a chance to play out, a much more crippling crises that will affect EVERY human being on this planet. And that will be a lack of potable water.

      December 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  3. B-RL

    Make everything virtual and the only thing the enemy needs to
    do is drag all files to the wastebasket to shut a country down.
    Or type rm -rf . under Linux.
    Or rmdir/s under dos.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AQ

    If they slow down the mail (and no doubt lose even more mail) does that mean we can also go back to one cent stamps? And exactly *how* is the USPS losing so much money? Why is no one looking into the books for that? Seems to me something isn't quite adding up.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Izzy

      One reason they're losing so much is that many many people are doing more online bill paying, e-mail etc. I know I only pay 2 bills by mail now. It's a major loss of revenue with no changes to spending, much like the rest of the government.

      December 6, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. winter

    The postal union is what's really destroying the financial stability of the postal service. They have so many requirements and conditions that they have people sitting around reading all day and collecting paychecks because (as an example) the union stipulates that only a certain trade can do a certain job – no mixing. So a custodian can't fix a mail cart because that's part of the maintenance department. If they ran it more like a corporation, it succeed (just like Fed Ex and UPS). The union was to help workers get fair pay and better working conditions, but it's gone too far keeping substandard workers employed in unecessary positions.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • JIM


      December 6, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dann

    UPS and Fed Ex do not deliver everywhere. Rural areas of this country require service and only USPS will guarantee that occurs. USPS would save a lot of money if Congress would quit imposing regulations that only they must follow. Funding of a retirement plan at a 75% level when every other business runs at a 35 to 40% level is taking billions off of the bottom line. These buffoons can't even agree on where to have lunch; they have no business running a company (or a country for that matter).

    December 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm | Report abuse |
  7. sordog1

    Usually our service is 1 to 3 days but often when sending tickets from the theatre I work in, it takes longer, sometimes a week or more to a local address. A group of our season memberships, mailed in June – over 100 pieces of mail – were lost for some time and began arriving at homes in the area in October, long after I had replaced all the orders. The Post Office had no explanation, no ability to track, and no desire to do anything to discover the root of the error and do anything. I think they have some real problems!

    December 6, 2011 at 1:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. mike johnson

    For how long could we keep the Post Office afloat for what we put into Afghanistan in a year?

    December 6, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mike johnson

    I wonder for long could we keep the Post Office in business for what we put into Afghanistan in a year? Cutting back on service is the wrong approach ... reduce staffing and infrastructure to 2001 levels.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Little Man 99%

    No post office , no junk mail, no bills. I kind of like that.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Phil in Oregon

    Is it still today? No, it's no longer a matter of national security. All govt operations can be communicated through the phone and internet(which was invented to facilitate govt communications) The big loss to the govt would be the lack of the franking privilege to spam us with campaign flyers.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Carol

    There are many things that need to be fixed with in the postal service, but it is still a valuable service to every address. In 2006 management decided to cut cost of overtime, they would now close the window an hour earlier, the public that came in after working all day to do their mail business were angered. They threatened to go on line and did.
    USPS watched as the very clients that USPS helped build (banks) were now putting print where the stamp goes suggesting the customer pay on line and "save a stamp". USPS allowed it.
    As hard as this curve is now, hopefully in the end USPS will be forced into better management, with managers that understand the full impact of their decisions to the mail service.
    Until then, the public should look upon the service and liken it to a large insurance group...with every stamp paid into the group it helps to maintain a lower base. Without a large group the fees go up, and right now this country needs all the jobs and service it can provide. Its better than a tax because it is a choice, and I choose to mail my bills and be a part of a much larger group. Its not just about me, but what my pennies can do for this country.

    December 6, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Kenneth

    This is a dumb, dumb, dumb comparison. The main salient point is fine, but mail in the "old days" didn't assume you had a rider at your door ready to take your mail and take a direct route on a paved road from origin to destination as this piece assumes. Even today, because of sorting, mail pickup, transit, and the like, it'd require at least 2 days to get from Monticello to Philly because mail doesn't work like a one-off Fedex/UPS package delivery. And it shouldn't because we're not paying the USPS $6 to take a 1 lb. or below item from Virginia to Pennsylvania.

    You get what you pay for. For 44 cents you can send a letter from Bangor, ME to Honolulu, HI. I'd like to see Mr. Franklin do that in 1789.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Michael L. Vanna

    The "Bottom line" fact revolves around the civil service pensions which were NOT funded and the outrageous compensation the the CEO who despite very poor management, still paid himself the bonuses? Why do you reward an incompetent CEO at all? It's what us 99%er's are fighting about and we're 'Sick of it and are not going to take it anymore'!

    December 6, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  15. tnmtl

    The writer is soooo dumb! This is so unbelievable. What is CNN really trying to say here? CNN loses points all the time publishing junk like this that reads like something from FOX "news".

    December 6, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
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