American Postal Portrait: A Photographic Legacy

American Postal Portrait: A Photographic Legacy

by United States Postal Service

The mail has a powerful connection with the American people. Who hasn't shared the experience of waiting eagerly for a letter to arrive or felt the rush of excitement at hearing footsteps near the door signaling the arrival of a delivery?

This first-ever photographic history of the United States Postal Service pays tribute to the everyday people who have worked


The mail has a powerful connection with the American people. Who hasn't shared the experience of waiting eagerly for a letter to arrive or felt the rush of excitement at hearing footsteps near the door signaling the arrival of a delivery?

This first-ever photographic history of the United States Postal Service pays tribute to the everyday people who have worked through rain, sleet, and snow to bring mail to American families. In over 200 rarely seen photographs, beginning with the advent of photography in 1860 and continuing to the present, An American Postal Portrait celebrates the fascinating behind-the-scenes stories, the innovative technological accomplishments, and the unique imprint the Postal Service workforce has made on American life.

Starting with the earliest Post Office outposts on the remote western frontier, the photographs highlight the great events, ideas, and inventions of the past century and a half—from mail delivery by stagecoach and horseback to the rapid utilization of the railroads and airplanes to the sophisticated sorting machines automating the processing of mail today. Captivating and unforgettable, these pages trace our nation's progress from its rural and isolated past to the high-tech, information-driven present, revealing a Postal Service that has helped to bind our growing nation together—one that continues to march in unison with America into the future.

Compiled from the collection of the United States Postal Service, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and other sources, An American Postal Portrait is a well-deserved tribute to our nation's foremost communications institution and the enduring American spirit.

For more than 200 years, the United States Postal Service has provided the American people with a secure and efficient delivery connection that binds our nation together. Today, postal employees handle approximately 41 percent of the world's volume—more than 650 million pieces every day, 3.9 billion pieces every week—delivering to a total of 130 million households and businesses. The United States Postal Service is the universal gateway to the American household.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
10.25(w) x 10.87(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt


James L. Bruns
Director, National Postal Museum
Smithsonian Institution

America's postal system, which so many of our citizens take for granted today, is a truly remarkable democratic achievement. Since the founding of our republic, our Postal Service has strived to serve the universal needs of all Americans. It has clone this by maintaining an efficient, inexpensive and trustworthy means of exchanging personal and business communications.

From its start, the Postal Service mission has been to ensure that our nation receives the best possible service. But even more important, our postal system has helped to bind our growing nation together. This latter point was an essential mandate, for, as George Washington predicted, the Postal System would be the principal means by which the people of the United States would be bound together in loyalty to the government.

The movement of the mails has played a significant part in the growth of our country. It has followed closely upon the footsteps of prospectors and homesteaders. Whenever a mining camp or small community was formed, a rush of people would typically follow, mail service would be created, and a post office would be established. This pattern of growth ensured the prompt distribution of the latest news to our ever-expanding population. And this remains true today. Indeed, it does not matter where one live lives—whether thein an affluent suburb or the inner city, whether in northern Alaska or at the bottom of the Grand Canyon—every American receives mail!

The arrival of the mail has always been one of life's greatpleasures. We look forward to discovering what is in the mail for us. This anticipation has not changed in more than 200 years. In earlier generations, work stopped and church services occasionally ended early when the mail arrived.

The mail that is, and has been, carried by the dedicated employees of the United States Postal Service has helped to shape the character and quality of life of every American every delivery day. Because Americans from all walks of life, from all corners of the country and from diverse ancestry send and receive mail, we share a common experience. The impact of that shared experience reveals itself differently to each of us every delivery day. To an elderly American, it may be demonstrated by the arrival of a loving missive from a distant friend or family member, along with a well-earned Social Security or retirement check. For those raised on a farm or residing in one of the country's man), rural hamlets, it may be reflected by the arrival of some recently ordered merchandise from across the world. Or, for an anxious high school student anywhere in America, it may come in the form of an acceptance letter to a college or university, or a highly prized job offer.

Delivering letters is not the only thing the Postal Service has done for America over the years. Since the 1850s, it has been called upon to provide a variety of public services that have little to do with mail delivery. It has distributed over a million pounds of free vegetable and flower seeds at Congress's request, distributed tax forms, assisted in hog surveys and draft and Selective Service registrations, sold Federal Duck Stamps to waterfowl hunters, coordinated the gathering of weather forecasting information, assisted in registering aliens, sold savings bonds, served as banks in many small communities as part of the nation's postal savings system and furnished flags for the burial of veterans. Over the years our nation's postal employees have provided such additional services without question of compensation.

The United States Postal Service is business at its best. While the United States occupies only about 1/50th of the land surface of the globe, our postal system handles approximately 41 percent of the world's mail volume—650 million pieces every day, 3.9 billion pieces every week. The next largest country is Japan, with 6 percent of the vvorld's mail volume. To serve the American people, the Postal Service places 2.7 billion pounds of mail aboard approximately 15,000 commercial airline flights annually. So much of America's mail goes by air that the Postal Service is the airlines' biggest shipper, but postal people do more than that. As part of our service, our postal employees deliver 24 pieces of mail to more than 130 million households and businesses every week. Our postal employees collect mail from 312,000 curbside mail collection boxes each day, place mail in more than 18 million post office lockboxes for customers desiring that service, and process 38 million address changes each year to ensure prompt and reliable service. Our postal employees take care of America's mailers every day everywhere.

But perhaps most important of all, the United States Postal Service also gives substance to the American ideal of freedom of expression. The recognition of the vital importance of this freedom was one of the great triumphs of the American Revolution. Our right to speak freely is not confined to oral expression. To be meaningful, freedom of speech must be freely translated into our letters, books, newspapers and magazines, and all other mailable materials. That was so apparent to the writers of the Constitution that they insisted upon both a postal system and a free press. The Congress went even further in 1792 with the enactment of the Post Office Act, which among other things called for the expansion of post roads, the sanctity of the mails and the inclusion of general publications. In effect, the Act subsidized the free press. It established cheap newspaper rates. Magazines and pamphlets were charged slightly more than newspapers, but much less than letters. These price breaks were an incentive to the distribution of news. It was a small price to pay for national unity. The circulation of such publications was seen as "the strongest bulwark of free government." Attempts to curb their exchange were envisioned as an "unconstitutional means of stopping in any degree the sources of that information which distinguishes America from the people of all other countries." This right to communicate freely with one another-to express our ideas without fear of censorship-is the priceless heritage of a free society. It also is a distinguishing characteristic of our American way of life. Truly, the sanctity of the mails is a basic freedom without which all of our other freedoms would be in jeopardy.

Because the Postal Service belongs to the people whom it serves, these pages represent an American scrapbook. These historic images portray the dedication, and achievement of America's postal employees. These pages form a truly American postal portrait.

Meet the Author

John E. Potter is the Postmaster General and Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service.

James L. Bruns is Director of the National Postal Museum, Smithsonian Institution, located in Washington, DC.

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