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. Special Delivery

    What about the USPS delivery guy that dropped a deuce on a lawn earlier in the year?

    December 5, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jen

    yuck : )

    December 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ellsworthey

    The pony Express took 5 days from St Joseph, Missouri to Sacrimento, California by horseback. Seems as though we have made a lot of progress down through the years. Yeah boy.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ronvan

    They need to do whatever it takes, without going crazy about raising prices! Could you imagine what WE would do to pay our bills if there was NO postal service? I can't!

    December 5, 2011 at 4:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • danshaw4

      We could do all of our bill-paying on line-no stamps required.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kevin

      You would pay them electronically. Do you really pay your bills with snail mail? I haven't done that it years!

      December 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. don't you people ever READ?

    Blame Congress for making them pre-pay their retirement fund for the next 75 years.
    I hope you all realize that's what is keeping the USPS from getting their books into the black...quit your b!tchen and write you Congress person about it, not that it'll do any good.
    Of COURSE they don't want to repeal that particular little ditty...they wouldn't have ready cash to dip their greedy little paws into.
    Think UPS is going to do it? HELL NO!
    They don't want to deal with all of the sh!t mail, and they're not going to go door-to-door.
    You morons think this is a part of the us gov't, but it's not...except of course when Congress passes ridiculous laws because the greedy sob's want to privatize the mail, thereby lineing their pockets even more.
    Y'all will get exactly what you deserve. Just wait til the us gov't starts dipping their hands into e-mail, the next big wave to make a penny. It's coming. I guarantee it.

    December 5, 2011 at 4:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • DaninTampa

      I got your back! So true.

      December 5, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • stevensb

      Absolutely right !!!!

      December 5, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • AzPatriot

      very well said

      December 5, 2011 at 8:59 pm | Report abuse |
  6. M

    Well written and for some reason it made me laugh. anyway...I hope they don't raise prices or something, shipping costs to much already.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Michelle

    Cut out the junk mail and save a lot of time sorting/delivering instead of companies just assuming you want their junk the person has to sign up to receive offers from a company. I dont have a problem with the time frame as it is now, i done use next day, and my mail usually takes about 5 days. people use online bill pay mostly anymore havent paid a bill through mail in about 4 years

    December 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm | Report abuse |
  8. RCBinTN

    Loss of the postal service would be a major setback for the USA.
    The subject of this article is equivalent mail delivery speeds between 1775 and now, and that comparison is simply absurd.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. liz

    there are so many jokes about the mail, and complaints about how slow it is. If they raised stamps to 50 cents or 60 cents, it's the bargains of the century. I can write a letter to anywhere in the country to any friend, drop it in a box and know it will get to my friends, or my check will get to the company I need to pay. In almost 60 years of using the USPS, I can think of only 1 or 2 screw ups. Imagine all the hands and machinery that have to handle my letter to get it there on time and in good condition. It's amazing to me. Email is faster, but I have friends who don't have access to email. And we shouldn't compare it to email or FedEx. The mail exists for a different reason entirely. I think they do an outstanding job and hope they can turn around the losses and keep people employed.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      If the US Government would allow the post office to charge what it actually takes to deliver the mail the post office could be run like a normal business and make a profit or break even. Limiting the yearly increase to 2 cents per year on first class when the cost of fuel rises 20% is absurd. They can't break even!!

      December 5, 2011 at 7:47 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Newman

    Funny, costs escalate greatly near death. For the USPS. RIP sooner rather than later.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm | Report abuse |
  11. musings

    Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that early in the nation's history, the mail was not delivered to the home. You went to the post office and paid for it there. Yes, paid for the mail you picked up. I don't know if the other party paid too to have it sent. It took until well into the 19th century to have the post office as we know it (even if horse-drawn carriages delivered it).
    One thing though: you could claim some privacy in your correspondence, unlike the internet.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:10 pm | Report abuse |
  12. MIkeyhelikesit

    You THINK you pay all your bills online. In reality you direct your bank or your creditor online but not all of the payments are transferred electronically. There's still a good number of those "online" transactions that end up being sent via snail mail. The time may be coming, but the end of a need for postal service is not here yet.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. octavio

    yes it is important.
    what needs to be put in these news stories is that one of the main reasons that the postal service is in such dire straits is because they are not allowed to raise the price of postage beyond national inflation levels, even though such things as gasoline have risen much faster than the average inflation rate.
    it's such limitations and obligatoins that have made the service loose money, and not bad management which is what those wanting to privatize the system claim.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Percy

      Absolute utter nonsense,either they change their business model or go bankrupt. Every time they increase their postage rates they lose more business – fact. They have not kept up with the times (bad mgmt.) when others have. Next day mail now that makes me LOL ,never had that in my lifetime.Don't even give that crap that no one else will deliver ever where in the USA as the USPS does not deliver in MANY areas of the USA and hasn't for years.Folks have been driving to the Post Offices for years to get their mail and some have to travel a great distance. Give it to the private companies and allow this Dinosaur to RIP.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Jason

    USPS is about communication, not moving objects from point A to B. They should broaden their business to more communications. It should use Congress's help to expand into these new businesses.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Percy

      Sorry but it is too little and much too late for that.They missed the boat 20 years ago.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • IfYouSaySo

      Congress has done nothing for the betterment of this country in a long long time. I just read abt them getting more pay and getting less stuff accomplished.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Meh

    Doesn't phase me. I check my trash.... ahem.. excuse me, mail once a week if that.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • John

      U got that one right every night ton's of junk for one bill

      December 5, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damie

      I refuse to make myself a slave of advertisers and the USPS, so I pick up my smail only when I'm expecting something like a ballot or a renewal form for my license plates. The rest is only junk anyway.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:41 pm | Report abuse |
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