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. andrewc

    I'm sorry, but this is the most screwed up math that I've ever seen posted to a credible news source... It take 2.6 days for a letter to go that distance, straight, with the horses going 24 hrs/day; however, that's just not nearly realistic. The horses would likely travel 8-12 hours per day, automatically putting the time to 5-8 days, then we have to assume that Franklin knew of the power of central processing (or processing at all) so we should up that estimate at least by a day. By these numbers, it would have taken a week or more to get a letter that distance. At least by my crude estimates.

    Next time, show some sources if you're going to make bold claims about...well, anything.

    December 5, 2011 at 10:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      Completely incorrect. In fact, horse (and driver) relays were kept, to deal with exhaustion. the times given were the ACTUAL times, not ginned up with bad math. Look it up yourself, Mr. McSneerypants.

      December 6, 2011 at 4:35 am | Report abuse |
  2. pnice

    I don't feel sorry for all those lazy workers at the offices here in metro ny. They are so concerned over their breaks than work and have no courtesy with customers. Also, USPS should have done some consulting since E-mail was created and not cry now after it's too late. USPS should learn from UPS. FEDEX, & DHL these guys are no losing at all, if anything they gaining the Post office customers.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      UPS, et al., don't have the facilities to handle daily mail.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      In fact, UPS and FedEx USE POSTAL FACILITIES for much of their sorting. Oops! Fail!

      December 6, 2011 at 4:36 am | Report abuse |
  3. teachdiesel

    If they would just raise the bulk mail rate, they would break even. But again corporations get out of paying their share and the common people have to pay for most of it.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • AGuest9

      Hit the nail right on the head.

      December 5, 2011 at 11:21 pm | Report abuse |
  4. nik

    its Monday 11:25pm est. No update yet. Talk about www age.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. craig

    The postal service...an oxymoron of the first degree...would stop using First Class rates to subsidize the package service and focus on their actual mandate...to supply mail service to every address in the country, things would immediately look up. They cite closing all these processing centers, but only in the fine print do they reveal that they can close them because they haven't needed them for years, then it becomes clear they haven't been able or willing to make "business decisions" since nearly forever. How many businesses continue to run factories they don't need?

    If they charged the costs to deliver the garbage mail, then things would change...and again their costs would go down. Of course, they'd need to make "business decisions" again, but...well...yeah.

    December 5, 2011 at 11:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      >> How many businesses continue to run factories they don't need?

      How many businesses have Congress meddling in their decisions as to whether or not they can close a factory?

      December 6, 2011 at 1:25 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jeffery Beaumont

    As an avid eBay-er, I am noticing a remarkable decline in the quality of services that USPS provides to its customers. I find it to be much more effective to pay my bank's $15 wire transfer fee as USPS has become much less reliable within the past year or so. The expectation of USPS to deliver a check from California to Tennessee within a specific time period is somewhat similar to spinning a roulette wheel, the odds of which can lead to disaster when running a business. In my opinion, USPS, AT&T, McDonald's Restaurant's, Comcast, and most American corporations have lost touch with reality; "The Customer is always right." A corporation today must understand that in order to satisfy a customer, three factors are key. A customer demands good product or service at a reasonable price. An imbalance in this ratio leads to destruction. Wake up, USPS. Customers are fed up!

    December 5, 2011 at 11:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      You pay for stuff by check on eBay??????? That's about as inefficient and outdated as using the Postal Service to send a letter.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  7. dalmz1z

    Now that they are doing this i'm going 100% online bill pay. I know it will make them loose more money, but my bill's have to be on time. There goes profit of at least 20 stamps from me.

    December 6, 2011 at 12:24 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      So you pay your bills at the last possible moment every month? You know you COULD just send your check out a few days earlier.

      December 6, 2011 at 12:40 am | Report abuse |
  8. Roadsniper

    Blah, blah ,blah

    December 6, 2011 at 12:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. hustlenflo

    Destroying the US Postal Service – which was started by Benjamin Franklin – is just one part of the Republican plan to create jobs.

    December 6, 2011 at 1:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. kruzerone

    Saturday mail will, now, be delivered via messenger pigeons.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  11. kruzerone

    Saturday mail will, now, be delivered via messenger pigeon.

    December 6, 2011 at 3:52 am | Report abuse |
  12. Dan

    Who needs USPS anyway when you have the internet, FedEx, and UPS?

    December 6, 2011 at 4:29 am | Report abuse |
    • Bozobub

      Oh, I dunno, anyone who can't afford $10-15 (or more) to send a letter?

      December 6, 2011 at 4:38 am | Report abuse |
  13. SixDegrees

    A silly analogy, given that the nation now generates volumes of mail hundreds of times larger than in Franklin's day and spans an entire continent and then some.

    Have Congress rescind their ridiculous pension requirements imposed on the USPS and the cause of all its budget shortfalls, putting them in line with all other Federal pensions, and the USPS would be turning a profit as we speak.

    December 6, 2011 at 4:50 am | Report abuse |
  14. Jim

    Why can't the USPS charge 75 cents to $1.00 for a first class mail piece? Surely Congress could allow this and keep the mail fast?
    44-45 cents for sending a piece of mail from New York to California is absurdly cheap. I'd have no problem at all with 75-cent stamps, or even $1.00.

    December 6, 2011 at 5:51 am | Report abuse |
    • abcdxyz

      Actually, I deliberately quit sending anything I didn't have to by postal mail several years ago after they kept raising the first-class postage. One of the reasons that there is less and less mail is that we now all use e-mail or facebook to communicate and the internet to pay bills, etc. I think the future of the postal service is in shipping the goods that we order online, not in letters, etc. And junk mail, of course. That's pretty much all I get in my mailbox these days–everything else happens online.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      Um, I don't understand how you would think it is ok to spend a dollar on a stamp. That is quite insane when you have to figure the other costs of what most people are sending in that envelope.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:11 am | Report abuse |
    • d

      Why cant Fex Ex or UPS do it. A friend of mine said UPS did a study and determined they could deliver first class mail at around .11. Now that was about 10 ys or so ago. But why doesnt our Congress just ask Fed Ex and UPS to "give em a quote" to see what they can do.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:27 am | Report abuse |
  15. Alex

    Can't understand how is it that UPS and FedEx make money by providing the same service USPS is providing... while USPS have been losing money for several years. Congress must separate themselves from any decision related to USPS, so that it can be managed as a business without the delays of the turtle-speed government decisions. After all, USPS does not receive any money from taxes or the government... then why should the government be so slow in acknowledging the suggestions of the Postmaster General ?

    December 6, 2011 at 6:02 am | Report abuse |
    • James

      That's because Fed Ex and UPS don't provide the same services that USPS does. People see the word postal and all they think of is packages. Can you get a money order or a federal bird stamp from UPS or Fed-Ex??? No, you cannot. Besides, if USPS is so bad, why does UPS and Fed Ex rely on them to make the final delivery (aka "Last Mile") on most of their packages??? Get the facts straight before you jump on the privatization bandwagon!

      December 6, 2011 at 6:44 am | Report abuse |
    • don

      People who say UPS and FEDEX provide the same service obviously have no idea what they are talking about, much like the writer of this article.

      December 6, 2011 at 7:55 am | Report abuse |
    • CuriousG

      That what I want to see! We need the USPS because they provide money orders and a Federal Bird stamp.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:18 am | Report abuse |
    • Marv

      The primary reason is that UPS and FedEx do not offer the "same" service. FedEX and UPS do not incur the expense of accepting and labeling many of their packages. I take a package to the local franchise (e.g. Post Net) and pay a huge markup to cover the agent's cost of doing business in addition to the actual pickup and delivery charge for FedEx or UPS. It winds up costing nearly double what the USPS charges. The USPS needs to raise their rates to a profitable level and simultaneously drop unprofitable services - RFD, Saturday delivery. Those that live miles into the country need to get a PO box in town and pick up their own mail when they are in town for other reasons.

      December 6, 2011 at 8:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Tim

      USPS has three major problems. First, salaries are too high. Secondly poor and wasteful management. And third USPS has to fund its own pension plan to the tune of $5 billion per year. We all know how high the average postal worker salary is, thats no secret. However the poor and wasteful practices of management often increases the worker's salary. Poor schedule planning, union victories over the years have created a work environment that bleeds waste. Here is one example. There is a three man crew that normally work a mail processing machine. One day one of the men call in sick and does not come to work. The same day the mail load is 30% higher than normal. Did you know the supervisor of that crew CAN NOT assist the two reamaining crew members. The supervisor instead must require the two crew member to work overtime. What a waste. In addition to that the supervisor must give at least a two hour notice to that crew that they will be working overtime. If the supervisor fails the provide proper notice the workers overtime will be even higher and the worker can file a complaint which in most cases is settle by a cash payment. So picture this: two crew member working so hard and still falling behind while the supervisor hands are tied as he/she just stands and watch. This is what the union has done or is management really that bad.
      Now for the USPS pension system, its failure is the direct result of the high salaries caused by the union. Here is the bottom line. The union has to make some tough changes or all the postal workers will lose.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
    • BobDole


      The USPS does have really good retirement benefits for its employees. That much is true. However The USPS receives ZERO federal dollars. It was made to be self reliant. The biggest budget problem facing the USPS is the mandate placed on it by an outgoing Republican Congress in 2006, requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund, over a decade, its employee pensions for 75 years. . No other pension plan, either public or private, is required to pre-fund for 75 years into the future. Without this burden, the USPS would be in the black today. The cost of pre-funding has exceeded $20 billion over the past 4 years – an amount that roughly equals USPS losses for that period. The Inspector General has determined that the Postal Service overpaid into the federal retirement system – between $50 and $120 billion! Those funds could be redirected to the USPS pension fund, allowing it to meet the extreme pre-funding mandate.

      They can afford to pay that overtime easy if this law was repealed. Why are you against people make a good living. Sure it may not be the most effective way but it still worked. They were still making plenty of money before this law. Billions of dollars in extra money. So what is so bad about them making a good living? They take in 0 dollars from your taxes so its not like you can say they are wasting your hard earned tax money. Your logic is flawed. Google treats its employees even better than that. Yet I dont hear people say OOOH that is just stupid. Sure google is a private company but like i said google takes in 0 dollars from your taxes just like the USPS.

      December 6, 2011 at 9:31 am | Report abuse |
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