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  Chapter Fifteen:

  U.S. Postal Service
  Personal Computers



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U.S. Postal Service

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As communities grew, the number of post offices decreased, while the volume of mail increased substantially.
In 1900, the local post office was the only agency of the federal government that the average citizen encountered in everyday life. There was no Social Security, no Medicare or Medicaid, no income tax, no college loan program, no FBI or SEC, no NLRB or EPA, no interstate highway system. 

The post office in every village, town, and city had been the principal link with the rest of the country since 1739. Benjamin Franklin, a postmaster general appointed by the British crown, was fired from his post in 1774 because of his revolutionary sympathies. The new postal system he organized for the Continental Congress was the predecessor of the U.S. Postal Service. 

The number of post offices increased with clocklike regularity from 75 at the founding of the Republic to 77,000 in 1900, when the average post office served less than a thousand people and often gave a local community its name and its boundaries. Thereafter, to save expense, the number was reduced with almost equal regularity. By the end of the century, the number of post offices had declined by almost two-thirds. In 1998, each of the nationís 28,000 post offices served an average of ten times more customers than the post offices of 1900. 

But the mail handled by the consolidated post offices rose in every decade except that of the Depression. The average person received 93 pieces of mail in 1900 and 729 pieces in 1998. The post office was not the only source of growth in paper messages, however. A substantial and growing volume of letters and other paper documents was handled every day by private express companies that compete with the U.S. Postal Service and offer guaranteed on-time delivery in return for premium charges. 

Electronic services began to compete with the post office around 1850, with commercial telegraph service from New York to Philadelphia and Chicago. Commercial telephone service began in a modest way in 1876. By 1900, almost 8 million calls were made every day. Fax machines, long available to large enterprises, achieved widespread consumer use in the 1980s. 

But all previous electronic competition pales next to e-mail, which did not become widely available until the 1990s. E-mail and other Internet messages reach the remotest parts of the world instantaneously and at negligible cost. In theory, these electronic innovations could erode the volume of hand-delivered paper communications. At the end of the century, however, they had not and there was no indication that they would.

Chapter 15 chart 4

Source Notes
Source Abbreviations

HS series R 163 and R 174; and SA 1999, table 946.


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