Say It Isn’t So! Could Home Delivery of Letter Mail Soon Be History?

Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds

“Neither rain nor snow nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

While the United States Postal Service does not have an official motto, many people believe that the words quoted above, and chiseled into granite over the entrance of a New York City Post Office, were created to celebrate the dedication of postal employees. In fact, those words were actually penned over 2500 years ago by Herodotus during the Persian Wars. Remarkably, he also utilized a system of couriers to carry messages throughout the Persian Empire. Fast forward to 1775 when Benjamin Franklin was appointed to be the first Postmaster General of the United States by the Continental Congress even before the Declaration of Independence had been signed. As the nation flourished and expanded south and west, the postal service adapted to serve the needs of our growing country. Daily free city delivery began in 1863 with rural delivery established in 1896. It is safe to say that every American alive has always known of,  come to expect, and even look forward to six-day a week visits from a Postal carrier to their home or place of work. I still look forward to the daily arrival of our rural letter carrier. But that could all change in the not too distant future.

The Postal Service was never really expected to make money, but rather to provide a valuable service to all citizens in a cost-effective manner. But it wasn’t expected to lose money either. The advent of electronic messaging in the 1980s, the birth of FedEx, and the growth of United Parcel Service all helped to draw volumes of both letter mail and parcels away from the Postal Service. Just since 2000, first class letter mail volume is down by more than 40%. I started working for the Post Office as a part-time city letter carrier in 1981, became a management trainee in 1984, was promoted to Postmaster of my small town in 1991 and retired in 2005. I never knew a time when we felt secure as an organization. When I was first hired, I was part of the largest civilian employer in the country. That would no longer be the case (WalMart now has more than 2 million employees), and both FedEx and UPS now employee nearly as many people as the Postal Service.  It’s not for lack of effort, few people realize that the Postal Service performs the “last-mile” of delivery of UPS and FedEx parcels for a nominal fee and even looked into adding grocery delivery. Sadly those probably won’t be enough to compensate for the continuing loss of  first class letter mail.

I understand that technology impacts on our daily lives seems to be growing exponentially. But I am not ready to give myself over completely to the impersonal means of communicating. Emails seem perfunctory and are often sent out en masse, lacking any unique or personal content. Facebook at times seems to be more of the same with less of a filter. Give me a handwritten letter anytime and I will feel the time and effort the sender put into writing it. I know because I am one of a dwindling number of people who still writes actual pen and ink letters to friends and family. I look forward to seeing the mail truck coming down the street. Being the eternal optimist, I look forward to discovering a letter from my sister or an old friend as I sort through the daily delivery, even if I know from experience that it is a rare treasure. I don’t know what will become of the Postal Service in the long-term. It may be that in time that the march of progress will eventually render it obsolete. I hope that will not be the case. But as long as I can look forward to my daily mail delivery, I will continue to write letters, send cards, and even packages. I will put my heart and soul into them and cherish any and all replies that I receive.


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