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. blue toad belly licker

    In order to gain a better understanding of the current slowness of the mail an examination of the root cause must first be made.
    Indeed it is exceedingly likely that an oil pipeline commissioned by the car lyle group and built by hal E burtton did burst at one point. The fact that bladimeer put in himself gave his blessing to this Caspian basin project only underscores the need for better well casement head cement.
    And therefore if your outgo exceeds your income, your upkeep will be your downfall.
    Same is true for the mail. So let it be written. In the year of our lord two thousand and eleven.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shampoohorns

      Nice Haiku.

      December 5, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. m

    Rants for an against unions when looked at fairly probably fall somewhere in the middle with a few extreme cases of abuse. Pretty much the norm wouldn't one say? Why do we hate USPS? Do you personally hate your letter carrier, the clerk at the desk, their management? It seems this whole thing has just gotten politicized now we have the left and the right at each others throats. At the end of the day, they are just people like everyone else trying to get by. Sure the top 1 percent of the organization is different than the rest, but that's no different than in any other large company.

    Raise the rates and charge for services that are now being performed for free.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Heinz Langhorst

    How about closing the USPS and immediately fixing the budget. There is not one thing we need the postal service for. And don't give me the rural thing; couple Trillion dollars might be overpriced for that. Remember when the automoblile was invented, we got rid of millions of horse buggies and the world still turns.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:43 pm | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      "There is not one thing we need the postal service for?" I beg to differ. I send care packages to family and friends at least once a month. And what about books, etc, that I order from smaller, independent retailers (about once every other month or so)? Ninety percent of those come and go via the Postal Service. If the USPS closes up shop, it'll cost me $13 to send one measly book or CD, instead of the $3 it does now. I don't like the sound of that, and I bet all those little retailers won't either. The world isn't quite as "digital" as you apparently think.

      December 5, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Brian

    Sorry, first class mail does NOT make it from the East Coast to the West Coast in 3 days.

    December 5, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Onalark01

    @Nancy. Yes the Mangement is to blame for poor service to get their Bonus. Some have never stepped foot on a route and expect these people to make a time so they can have a big Fat check..Aye Aye to you for posting that statement..

    December 5, 2011 at 7:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Nancy S.

    You know, you people should stop ragging on about the carriers. There are bad apples in every basket and chances are the carriers you're talking about aren't even regular employees. The USPS routinely hires "flexies" and other temp workers who don't give a crap if the mail is delivered correctly. And yes, all you smartie pants, postal carriers are "taught " how to deliver mail. The real USPS carriers I know are dedicated to their customers and go above and beyond just delivering the mail. Sorry some of you have had a bad experience at your local post office but if you worked for some of the JERKS who supervise those workers, youj might be cranky too. My hat is off to all those dedicated carriers who are out there everyday, in every kind of weather delivering mail. I personally know of a local postmaster who gets his rocks off everyday harrassing his carriers for breaking his stupid rules....like wearing the wrong shoes or putting a vest on to keep warm in a cold building. Like I said before, the USPS could save millions by getting rid of overpaid supervisors. Leave my friends alone. They work very hard and by the way......they are not RICH!!!!!

    December 5, 2011 at 7:56 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Victor

    If the US Government REALLY wanted the Postal sytem to really work then how about contract services? I am sure the service would be a lot faster and within three years there will be a PROFIT. This will allow the US Government to save big as to payroll, insurance and retirement. Something to REALLY think about and do it instead of opening the mouth and letting hot air out while sitting on your a$$e$.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Anomic Office Drone

    I'd be more supportive of the USPS if my mailbox didn't exclusively contain junk mail addressed to "resident".

    December 5, 2011 at 8:04 pm | Report abuse |
  9. tj66

    Faster, sure, but in 1775 I bet 80% of the mail a person received wasn't unsolicited junk. If the USPS hadn't been encouraging companies to waste MY time and untold amounts of paper on junk mail, they would have been out of business long, long ago. They need to reduce deliver to M, W, F and even that's probably 2 days more than is really needed.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Brian900

    One obvious way they could cut a huge amount of waste is with priority mail supplies.
    For those of you who don't know, all priority shipping materials are supplied free of charge by the US postal service.
    This includes all boxes and soft packs, tape, labels. They will even deliver them to your door free.
    I do a lot of buying & selling on Ebay. A lot of what I received was in priority boxes people just turned inside out .
    Now they print "priority" on both sides.
    Why should the post office be supplying people with free packaging supplies? Sure, they pay increased shipping rates but sometimes it is about the same rate.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. watchman5

    This is nothing but laughable blackmail. Two years ago, our state parks dept, was needing money. They closed the parks and said they couldn't afford to pay for people to maintain and clean them anymore..this convieniently happened just prior to voting on a measure to give them more of our tax dollars.....the measure didn't pass and miraculously they re-opened the parks and it was business as usual. This ploy of the post office is the same kind of black"mail". We don't care if it is slower....we will just get used to it and plan ahead....and when we are in a hurry we will use a different service. The house of the Post Master needs cleaning from the top down. I am sure that organization is top heavy in salarys and time wasted...publically proven now that the "master" isn't doing his/her job.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. TJB

    All the USPS needs to do is raise the price of the stamp and keep the level of service the same, but with less volume.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
  13. whatsupwitdis

    To suggest that we could do without the USPS is nonsense. That said, we sure don't need 6-day-a-week delivery and a realistic increase in the price of a stamp might be a good place to start. These under-used facilities need to be closed ASAP and the whole place needs to be scrutinized for waste and duplication just like a "real business". The outrageous benefit packages and carrying the retirees on an incredible medical and pension plan are dragging them down too. Maybe a little "hustle" in the various postal facilities wouldn't hurt either...nobody breaks a sweat that I've ever seen!

    December 5, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • mayangrl

      whatsupwitdis says the USPS should be "scrutinized for waste and duplication just like a 'real business'. The outrageous benefit packages and carrying the retirees on an incredible medical and pension plan are dragging them down too." Yes, maybe the USPS should be run like a "real business." So, let's get rid of the rule that says prices can't exceed the rate of inflation. Then, we'll get rid of the rule, imposed by Congress, that says pensions and retiree medical benefits must be FULLY FUNDED for 75 years. What business has to do that? Instead of cutting service, the USPS and we the people should stand up and demand that Congress overturn their ridiculous laws. THEN let's talk about how to make the USPS more efficient.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Cr0we

      I'm sure what you have seen amounts to a counter person and perhaps a few carriers. The Postal Service runs at a deficit of $5 billion a year. What does the Defense, Justice, DEA, FBI, CIA, etc run at? At least the Postal Service TRIES to run without cost to the Government despite the fact that it is a Government agency. Can the Department of Agriculture or USDA say the same thing? The USPS runs a tight ship. They ARE goverment eployees however, and that means Government pay. That is across the board, not just for the Postal Service.

      People asking about garbage mail, and how much it is costing the USPS? What do you think keeps it afloat? Christmas cards and the few bills you send every month? Junk Mail is what makes the USPS still feasible.

      Frankly I think they should either invest more in facilities (How long do you have to wait in FedEx before a package is taped up for you and on it's way?) Either that or increase prices across the board. They charge way less than FedEx or UPS and are cheaper by a truckload in International shipments. They just need better customer service.

      December 5, 2011 at 9:58 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike Manhattan KS

    I understand that it is congress and/or the House that is causing the problems. Since when does industry have to pay retirement fees 10, 20, and 30 years ahead to the time they are due? Sounds like Congress should forfeit their income, their aids income, their who organization's income and return the money back to the post office!

    December 5, 2011 at 8:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. ChrisM

    Not directly applicable to this article in particular, but allow me to go on a generic rant about anything labeled "Opinion" on CNN. This is just an insult to the reader. Like we don't know the difference between fact and opinion. I thought we all learned this in grade school. My blood pressure goes up every time I see this.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:36 pm | Report abuse |
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