benjamin franklin

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Franklin the Editor
In today's world of e-mail and overnight express mail service, the idea of a letter taking two weeks to travel from New York to Philadelphia seems almost comical. However, in the mid-1700s, a letter might take as long as fourteen days to make the 109-mile trip between the two cities.

In Franklin's eighteenth century, most correspondence, both personal and business, was carried by hand. The most reliable postal route in the colonies was along the coast by ship. Roads between the colonies were not well-marked nor well-kept, and delivery service was poor at best. Letters were carried by friends, by slaves, by sea captains, and by other travelers. "Post offices" were taverns, inns, and coffee houses where these letter carriers dropped off correspondence for recipients in the locale.

Transatlantic service took months, and writers could never be certain if letters would reach their final destinations. Sometimes, writers would make as many as five copies of a letter and send each by a different ship, hoping that at least one of the letters would arrive safely. It was a far cry from the certified international delivery that we enjoy today.

Postal service in the United States was greatly influenced by Benjamin Franklin who was appointed Postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737, Joint Postmaster General of the colonies for the Crown in 1753, and Postmaster for the United Colonies in 1775. Through Franklin's efforts, the length of time for mail service between major cities in the colonies was cut in half.

Franklin established several notable improvements to postal service while he was serving as Joint Postmaster General for the Crown. He began by making a tour of all the major postal offices in the colonies to inspect their operations and to identify ways of improving service. Under Franklin, routes were surveyed, milestones were placed on the main roads, and better, more direct routes were set up between the colonies. Franklin also established faster postal service between Philadelphia and New York by having the weekly mail wagon travel at night as well as during the day.

As Postmaster of Philadelphia, Franklin was able to increase the circulation of his Pennsylvania Gazette, as the position allowed him to easily deliver his newspaper via the city's postal service. (The previous postmaster of Philadelphia was also a publisher and a competitor of Franklin.)

While serving the Crown, Franklin also instituted the first rate chart to be used by postmasters. The postal rates were based on distance and weight and standardized throughout the system. Franklin served as Joint Postmaster General for the Crown until he was dismissed in 1774 due to his vocal support of independence for the colonies. However, Franklin left a legacy of postal roads stretching from Maine to Florida, regular mail service between the colonies and England, and a system for regulating and auditing post offices.

The following year, 1775, Franklin was appointed by the Continental Congress as its first Postmaster General, a position he served in until late in 1776 when Franklin was called upon to serve his country in other ways.

Throughout his life, Franklin wrote and received thousands of pieces of correspondence. Perhaps Franklin's desire to improve postal service was based, in part, on the value he placed on communication.

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