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. heather

    The post office needs to quaduple (maybe even more) the cost of delivering advertisements. The advertisers will either pay more or stop sending us trash. That way the post office ends up with enough money to continue as before or less mail to deliver. If junk mail has become such a burden that it is taking the post office down, then that burden needs to dealt with. And that really is the problem. Their costs are higher than what they are taking in.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
  2. William

    I don't know about other post offices but in our local PO if they are going to move any slower, they will slip into a coma. I have never seen anyone work as slow as these people. There is no sense of urgency to do anything.

    December 5, 2011 at 5:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • pacers31

      Hard to believe that a business that is going down and out would provide even worse service. Sounds like this slow down in mail delivery is aimed at trying to get the govt to bail out the USPS. I was in a post office here in California the other day and questioned the price of my mailing. The woman told me, "Sir, if you don't like the price, you can always go to FedeX or UPS." Is that really the response you should get from a business that is fighting to stay alive??? I say close them, I can wait a few more days for my Arby's coupons!!!

      December 5, 2011 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
  3. double down

    Usps is an anachronistic business better left on the scrap heap of history. Unfortunately it pays to many wages to be discarded just now.
    And that begs the question ; just exactly what did the hate wallstreet movement do for us? The answer. Precisely nothing.
    So here's the real problem. Banks now believe average working Americans can afford $30,000 new cars. But Americans can't afford 212,000 new houses?
    The post office is just another taxpayer subsidized boondoggle bilk machine.
    To bad it cannot be dumped now because of the need to keep cash pouring into the economy from every possible direction.
    Those occupiers were just homeless people getting free tents and sleeping bags anyway.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • cw

      Do you have any rational thoughts?

      December 5, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michelle

      The US Post Office is not tax payer funded and hasn't been for decades.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • double down

      None whatsoever thank you.
      And you?

      December 5, 2011 at 6:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • pacers31

      Yeah doubledown, the unemployed are all just lazy F****r's huh?? Or maybe they were axed from their job so that someone in China can work for a nickel an hour. You come across as just another out of touch republican.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • JIM


      December 6, 2011 at 10:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. BL

    Get rid of that anachronistic, inefficient, wasteful, white elephant. Good riddance to their junk mail , surly postal workers and long lines for poor service. Privatize 1st class delivery and raise junk mail rates to pay for it.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:09 pm | Report abuse |
  5. orbin hatch Arapaho

    All the postal workers could be be relocated to good minimum wage jobs if we deport all the illegals.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Usher73

    Waiting in line at the post office reminds me of waiting in line at the airport. Lots of government employees in uniform standing around, doing nothing but chatting with each other.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Grumpster

    Check it out...zip 21783 and 21720. Two towns...supposedly (looks like one small town to me) with these two post offices within ONE MILE of each other. One is a dinky little thing, and the other is average but closes from 12-2 daily (for lunch?). Why do we need two post offices within a mile for one rural town? This is part of the problem.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • star wars

      Red leader this is Blue leader."Stay on target, stay on target ".

      December 5, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Report abuse |
  8. don kingsley

    wrong issue. the correct issue is how do you dismantle the lavish pay and benefits of postal employees? that's what's driving the post office to ruin. i think they have to make a $7bb pension contribution next year. that's nuts. so reform the costs, pare down the scale and you have a viable post office. if they reduce speed they just accelerate the move to other channels.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:22 pm | Report abuse |
  9. AhhPures

    I fear tens of thousands of "postal" workers let loose on society if they go under. I'm willing to pay more for a stamp and also to wait longer for snail mail. Most of it is junk anyway.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:25 pm | Report abuse |
  10. pony express

    This work would get a higher job satisfaction rating if they just went back to using the horses.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. AT

    I've seen a lot of messages here to this effect: stop the junk mail by increasing the fees 10x or 20x. It's such a waste for me to drop every trip from the mailbox into the recycling bin. I don't read any of it and it must impact fuel efficiency for the mail trucks. If the USPS cannot sort out this business problem, they don't deserve to be around.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Tom

    If the USPS wants to raise rates then fine, let it do so...if and only if its government-enforced monopoly on 1st class mail is ended and other privately-funded interests are allowed to enter the market for 1st class mail. Then I would have no problem letting the USPS charge whatever it wants and then allowing the consumer to choose which 1st class service he or she wishes to engage and pay for. Otherwise, don't hand me any so-called "arguments" that the refusal of the USPS, to give up its 1st class mail monopoly, indicates anything other than bad management; management with no incentive to improve.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • JIM


      December 6, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Steve

    CNN commentary sinks to new lows of inanity. I can't believe the author of this twaddle put his name on it. The assumptions that the only rate limiting factor the speed a horse trots at and that the mail was in motion 24 hours per day are utter foolishness . Certainly the actual time that it took an average piece of mail to get from Philly to Monticello can be found in the historical record rather than speculating by "doing the math."

    Also, I dearly hope that our military and intelligence agencies are not stupid enough to be sending national security-essential items via the USPS.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • pacers31

      yeah CNN is the master of the ridiculous headline. Like the other day I read: UNEMPLOYMENT PLUMMETS TO 8.6%. Who do you idiots think you are fooling?? Just what the public needs, a bunch of disgruntled postal workers going postal on society!

      December 5, 2011 at 6:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • zero

      it is policy to regularly send sensitive material and equipment through usps, fedex, and ups. at least that is what happens in the army. so.....yes...they are that stupid!

      December 5, 2011 at 6:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Hopefully they do not send national security related materials through USPS least of all!

      December 5, 2011 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mark Silvers

    Privatize the post office or eliminate it. The only mail I get is garbage/trash mail. Or, increase the price for catalogs and other mail to offset costs.

    December 5, 2011 at 6:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      It already is "Privatized" in the sense that it receives no tax revenues. Unfortunately, the 535 dolts in the domed white building in DC still exercise control over it and do not allow it to adjust to the market. If the USPS were allowed to manage it's own prices and costs, including labor, it might stand a chance.

      December 5, 2011 at 6:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. conventional wisdom

    Rationalization will get us nowhere here folks.
    In a case like this we must think outside the box

    December 5, 2011 at 6:39 pm | Report abuse |
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