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. Duane Spencer

    Just do away with the Postal System, If not raise the cost of a stamp by 18 cents, this system is broke

    December 5, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Report abuse |
  2. jim

    Once I was at the fair and they accidentally dropped a piano on a napping mailman. When the piano squashed him pastry filling shot out everywhere and covered everyone. I always knew they were mean lazy fat unkempt dirty and slovenly but I didnt know they were filled with a tasty cremme filling. No wonder dogs chase them. They want a bite of mailman pastry.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tax Payer

    To cnn: Stop it. Stop with the stupid meaningless headlines and the inflammatory opinion pieces. Losing the US Postal Service would be very serious, and we all need to accept some changes in order to keep it. Try to take this seriously CNN and don't hand this off to some new "journalism" school grad to try all the tricks learned in the new J-School curriculum.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Isaac

    I can't even remember the last thing I mailed. Everything that shows up in my mailbox is nothing but material for the recycle bin.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. J R Brown

    'Cause we all know that delivering mail to 350 million Americans couldn't possibly be slower than delivering mail to 500k.

    This entire "opinion" piece is a big fat FAIL.

    December 5, 2011 at 8:52 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Susan

    This will all shake out and be fine. Think about the fact that 30 years ago there was hardly a computer industry – now there are tons of jobs there. The postal people should just refocus, as should the postal service itself. All it ever brings me anymore is credit card offers anyway.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:09 pm | Report abuse |
  7. GA Redneck

    My mail doesn't arrive until 6:30 p.m. or later each day. It's dark by then, so I wait until the next day to retrieve it. When I do, it consists of department store and drug store ads, heavy envelopes full of coupons for stuff I would never purchase, and solicitations from insurance companies. The advertisers pay less than half the rate I pay when I use the USPS. What kind of nuttiness is this, when regular consumers pay so much more?

    So cut out the subsidies for businesses and let's all pay first-class rates. Raise those first-class rates if you need to. My guess is that USPS handles 1 lb. of first class mail for ever 20 lbs. of cut-rate advertising. In this way, the work force could be cut in half. And I wouldn't mind at all having mail delivered only three days a week. It would be fewer trips to the trash can for me. You can bet Ben Franklin never envisioned having the postal service as an active partner of advertisers.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • BRW

      Do you mail several hundred to several thousand pieces of mail at one time? Do you pay for a yearly permit to do so? Do you perform address verification, carrier route sorting and barcode everything with ZIP+4 before you deliver your mail to the post office?

      I worked for non-profit and part of my duties was to send out our quarterly newsletter to 2500 people. Bulk mailers get preferred rates because they do a lot of sorting work and follow very specific rules. The junk mail that they deliver is their bread and butter. That's what pays the bills.

      Regular first class postage allows you to hand write an address that's barely legible. They'll figure it out and get it there. Do that with bulk and they'll reject the entire mailing.

      December 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. GrampaDave

    I get an email for each bill I owe monthly that tells me my bill is ready to view. I go to the website, click "Make a Payment", choose the amount and which account to use, and click "Submit". My payment is credited to my account and debited from my bank immediately. I don't have to write a check, put it in an envelope, find a stamp, drive to a collection box to mail it, then worry that the machinery the postal service runs it through to sort it doesn't chew it to hell.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Report abuse |
  9. raster1944

    I doubt that anyone who makes these sarcastic remarks regards Postal Workers could handle a typical post job. What a bunch of losers as is the writer of this article. What a hit job with little or NO facts to back up their premises. Let them get out and deliver the mail in all sorts of weather and in a timely manner. Probably last but a half day. No mention of the FACT that a letter would cost about $5 back in 1775 and actually serviced but along the Easter Seaboard. There is no guaranteed one day service for 1st letters! Where are they getting this guarantee? There are standards for delivery of 1st class but no guarantees. Usually 1st class letters are delivered in one day in a 200 mile radius but can take 2, 3, 4 days depending on situation.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. GA Redneck

    Grandpa Dave, I pay by Internet every chance I get, except in one instance. A power company supplying service to a house I own in another state has a great scam going. It offers Internet payment service, but the site is always down. The choice then becomes paying by regular mail or calling in your payment and getting charged a $2.95 fee in addition. I imagine lots of people are paying that $2.95 fee.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    I would LOVE to know how much money all the bulk garbage mail is costing. Why not eliminate that or increase the fee for it by 3X? Get rid of Saturday delivery. Make it expensive for companies to send out all the unwanted credit card offers. But leave first class and priority mail alone.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Steve

    Private companies have been required to recognize the expense and pay for retirement when it is earned for about 40 years. However, the government still records it when it is paid.

    It is time for all of Government to come into the 20th century and record and fund retirement currently. That would help them finally get into the 21st.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:50 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Nisroc

    It is losing money because most people rely on the internet, email and web applications to get the message though, pay bills ... if we did not have the internet today the postal services would be thriving off snail mails.

    December 5, 2011 at 9:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobothebear

      No. It's losing money because it burning 100s of millions on pensions for retired employees.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Hugo

      Rather it's losing money because USPS didn't properly fund the pensions in the first place. Instead they relied on expected growth and instead they got shrinkage.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:46 am | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      While that all contributes, the USPS was MAKING money, right after becoming a for-profit enterprise. Rising gas prices, however, killed that.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:33 am | Report abuse |
  14. opine

    I demand they plow even more taxpayer money into this inefficient, money-losing process! And deliver the mail to us for free while having the rich pay for it all! Occupy the post office!

    December 5, 2011 at 10:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Will

      Can you conservatives debate anything without digging out your ole' strawman?

      December 5, 2011 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • bobothebear

      Can you libs protest anything peacefully and intelligently without deserving a pepper spray.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:08 am | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      The USPS is fully funded by the sale of stamps and other costs associated with postage.

      December 6, 2011 at 3:33 am | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      Because, yeah, a disagreement = someone needs to be pepper-sprayed. Thanks for exposing your silly hate for all to see...

      December 6, 2011 at 4:42 am | Report abuse |
  15. michaelfury


    December 5, 2011 at 10:22 pm | Report abuse |
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