July 26, 1776 – An American Post Office Is Established

On this day in history, an American Post Office was established with Ben Franklin as Postmaster General. Franklin used “B. Free Franklin” as his signature while in that office.

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Before the Revolution, most of the mail went back and forth not among the colonies but to counting houses and government offices in London. With the coming of the Revolution, the colonies now needed to communicate with one another to circulate news, new laws, and military orders, inter alia. Journalists were especially eager to have a postal system established.

In October, 1774, William Goddard, a Patriot printer who was frustrated with the unreliable means for both sending out and receiving information, laid out a plan to the Second Continental Congress for a Constitutional Post. Benjamin Franklin promoted Goddard’s plan; he had already served as postmaster general of the colonies from 1753 to 1774, when he was fired for opening and publishing Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s correspondence.

On July 26, 1776 the Second Continental Congress finally adopted the plan, agreeing to appoint a Postmaster General for the United Colonies who would establish a line of posts “from Falmouth in New England to Savannah in Georgia, with as many cross posts as he shall think fit.”

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A special proviso added “That it be recommended to the postmaster general to establish a weekly post to South Carolina.”

The Congress then unanimously chose Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General.

While postmaster, Franklin streamlined postal delivery with properly surveyed and marked routes from Maine to Florida (the origins of Route 1), instituted overnight postal travel between the critical cities of New York and Philadelphia and created a standardized rate chart based upon weight and distance.

Under the Articles of Confederation, Congress established the Confederation Post Office effective October 18, 1782. Although the Constitution was adopted in 1788 it was not until 1792 that Congress formally established the United States General Post Office.

By the end of George Washington’s second presidential term in 1797, the number of post offices, miles of post roads and amount of postal revenues had quintupled.

Originally, the postal recipient paid postage. Letter carriers first appeared in cities in 1794. In lieu of salaries, they collected two cents plus postage for each letter they delivered. The use of adhesive postal stamps was authorized by Congress on March 3, 1847.

The USPS employed 626,764 workers as of January 2014 and operated 211,654 vehicles in 2013, the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world.

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