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. NoRadicalsPlease

    this seems radically in accurate. the average letter not of national importance took longer than 3 to 5 days to get from Jefferson in Virginia to Adams in Mass.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  2. ironman

    The USPS is not run as a business. Any company with unit volumes down double digits over the last three years with operating expenses up would either declare bankruptcy or severely reduce operating expenses neither of which they have done. Unfortunately for the USPS and the US taxpayers, they/we must funded pension liabilities too!! Where does that come from? The US govt!! Dont believe me?? Read USPS.com/financials

    December 5, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  3. hank

    The Post office is very necessary just like the military is very necessary. We cant just shut them all down in just one administration. Time to get a clue. The post office is used & abused and then the facts are juggled to look unproffitable. Not the case at all. The Main post offices are used to process passports. More over use, and less accounting. No charge for address changes, another great time consumer that goes un charged. Charge for what the Post office does and there is no issue. This of course requires someone to take charge and actually manage it like a real business, not a big free service.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve1959

      I agree wholeheartedly! Virtually every Postal system in the industrial world charges from $75 to $120 dollars per change of address. It makes no sense for the Post Office to continue this service free. While they admit that first class mail is their bread and butter, they target that for a reduction is service while maintaining the same service standards for bulk business mail (junk mail) which they lose money on.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bogdanovich

      I helped a guy at work on Friday change his address online and he was charged a dollar. He also had to print out a form to sign and then mail. He paid for the stamp. I told him it was free if he just went to the post office.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:09 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Oleg

    Imagine how successful USPS would be today if they thought to provide an official e-mail service for one cent per message. Any other services would be still allowed but, back in the day, any self respecting businesses would gladly adopt "official" addresses and consumers would prefer them to cut down on spam and fraud. Add inexpensive, common sense features like ability to send e-mail to physical address of a registered user and conversely write an e-mail address on an envelope and today USPS would be helping us solve the budget crisis!

    December 5, 2011 at 7:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Ann

    "First, back to the future." Actually in this context it's back to the past.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:15 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Tom

    Great, what ever it takes to make the USPS solvent.
    Who cares if it takes a couple more days, anything time sensitive is sent via
    Fed Ex or email. The author makes it sound like the end of civilization, what moron!

    December 5, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  7. PeteSakes

    Letters are still romantic. Bummer for the post office as I know how dedicated some can be. Remember the term:
    "Going Postal" originated when overworked clerks went bonkers. Grueling, beat the clock schedules, monotony,etc.
    Our neighborhood mailman was a trusted guy in the community. When I moved into a new neighborhood, years ago,
    a friendly chat attempt had the young mail guy just ranting about his salary, etc. My take was he was under stress,
    unlike the old days.Times change, the internet age has "fried" a lot of tried and trusted professions. Still, my
    neighborhood has a bevy of clerks that are incredibly patient with customers, I hate they may be shutting down.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dav Mac

    The postal service is an other failed government agency(makes believe it is a public company) it should shut down right after HEW & EPA.The two most worthless organizations that exist anywhere.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jones Foyer

    Two to five days for delivery makes sense in a way; that's how long it takes to get served at the counter at a post-office.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:21 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Jones Foyer

    Wonder how much money the postal service spent on such frivolties as sponsoing a Tour De France cycling team. Well spent money, as the Belgians, French, and Italians are all potential customers of a service only available in the United States.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Report abuse |
  11. David

    To all of you people that don't want our service, which is absolutely free to you, get rid of your mailbox and we won't stop at your house. It's that easy! No more unwanted mail for you to have to cry about. It'll be a big help towards saving us money. Those of you who complain about the price of a 44 cent stamp while you drink a $2.00 bottled water or cup of designer coffee, you need to rethink your priorities.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • AzPatriot

      @ David: thank you, that needed to be said.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:34 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Unsympathetic

    This whole issue infuriates me. Cry me a river. I worked at the illustrious US Post Office as a casual employee while in college. I personally watched 12-15 full time employees draw time and a half with nothing to do for no less than 5-6 hours a night simply because their union contracts only allowed them to sort first class letters and there weren't any letters to sort. The USPS wouldn't be losing so much money and continue crying for taxpayer handouts if they would reign in inefficiency, incompetence and union abuse.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve1959

      Your story simply doesn't wash. there is no union contract that allows employees to only sort first class letters. In fact, section 7 of the mailhandlers union contract specifically allows management the right have employees work across crafts. That's true for any postal contract. If employees are sitting around, on overtime, with nothing to do then that's just poor management.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mary

      that is the same thing the postal workers say about casual employees

      December 6, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. mark

    why not use electic bikes

    December 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Onalark01

    Ugh! All these comments are making my head hurt. My boyfriend has been a mailcarrier for 5 years. He is not a "Pompas" Gov't employee. He is a Vetern with a Union job. A TE..do you know what a TE is? Its a No Benefits No Holiday paid job. Oh! And a couple times he didnt get Veterns Day off. What is a TE? It's a 6 day temp job..you cover other carriers routes that are on vaca or sick..you work out of other offices in the area so you may not know what route your doing..You walk 14 plus miles a day in all the weather..You get harrased by check chasers at the beginning of the month..Chased by dogs and work into the dark time in places considered the "Ghetto"..Walk past crime scenes..be threatened by druggies and hope you make it home that day..5 years of only having Sunday off during the week and working your ass off to make leave time to get a vaca. Would you like this job? No you enjoy your desk job in the comforts of heat and air eating your Pastries..Walk a day in a mailcarriers holey shoe and then complain..They worked to save your country now they deliver your mail sans the Gov't..Its after 6 pm here and he's still not home..But thanks to email I get to see him stress about how long he will have a job..Pompas and Pastrie eaters the shame of you...

    December 5, 2011 at 7:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • wait one freakin minute.

      Just worked outside in the cold all day. Kneeling in ice and water with no gloves on.
      Haven't eaten for 3 days because it was either food or gas and gas will get me food by payday.
      It's ok, love it because I love to work, but my boss runs a profitable business that provides a useful service.
      No question your boyfriend performs admirable service. Is the post office even necessary though?

      December 5, 2011 at 7:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shampoohorns

      People are stupid. A lot of us understand what they do. It's easy to attack and say other people don't deserve benefits. I'm military and get the same sort of BS. Why middle class people trying to do the right thing are under attack I'll never understand.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      There are always people who will launch ad hominem attacks against federal employees. But that does not dilute the legitimate question being asked by the rest of us: in the age of email etc., is the federal postal service as it currently exists necessary? I think a strong argument can be made that it is not.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Michael

    Wow people, talk about "outsourcing"!
    Every country has a postal office, the down fall of a Nation once the post office is gone!

    December 5, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13