We’re honored to participate in the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum exhibit and help celebrate the U.S. Postal Service’s long history of supporting American businesses.
For more than a century, AT&T and the U. S. Postal Service have pioneered communication throughout the country. AT&T’s mission — to connect people where they live, work and play … and do it better than anyone else — embodies this pioneering spirit.
The foundation for AT&T’s business was laid in 1876 with an invention that would shape the world we know today: the telephone.
Alexander Graham Bell didn’t just change the way we communicate, he changed the way we live and work. His telephone connected people and businesses across the country, creating a spirit of human connections that has powered our company’s approach to innovation ever since.
Riding the shockwaves of Bell’s revolutionary device, the Bell Telephone Company — later known as the American Bell Telephone Company and, eventually, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) — was created.
As the United States saw rapid economic, geographic and population growth in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, AT&T and the U.S. Postal System provided much of the communications infrastructure that fueled that growth. The Postal System pioneered the first information highway. It connected settlers on the American frontier with the East Coast and inspired additional westward investment and migration. And in 1885, after five years of experimentation, the American Bell Telephone Company began formal construction of an interstate long-distance system known as the Long Lines network. The company then incorporated the American Telephone and Telegraph Company, its subsidiary at the time, to operate the budding network. In 1899, American Telephone and Telegraph bought American Bell, becoming the parent company of what was then known as the Bell System. By 1915, Long Lines had crossed the continent.
In 1984, after more than a century of doing business, the original AT&T agreed to divest its local telephone operations but retain its long-distance, R&D and manufacturing operations. With this agreement, seven Regional Bell Operating Companies — the so-called “Baby Bells” — were formed. Each of these companies, in turn, had its own relationship with the U.S. Postal Service.
Twelve years after divestiture, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 dramatically changed the telecom landscape again. Over the next two decades, SBC Communications — formerly Southwestern Bell Corporation — completed several transformational acquisitions. And in 2005, SBC, which had begun as the smallest of the Baby Bells, acquired the original AT&T Corp. and renamed itself AT&T Inc. Today, following the acquisitions of BellSouth and DIRECTV, AT&T is the largest telecommunications company in the world.
From its inception, AT&T’s history has been intertwined with the U.S. Postal System. Other than walking into an AT&T office, for years, mail delivery was the most efficient way for AT&T to bill its customers … and for its customers to pay their bills. Theodore Vail, the first president of AT&T, served as superintendent of the Railway Mail service before joining the company. And AT&T’s local and long-distance networks were built to mimic the “hub and spoke” model originally developed by the Post Office Department for the delivery of mail.
Despite all that’s changed since those early days, AT&T continues to rely on the U.S. Postal Service.
Even as the billing process has become more automated, AT&T still sends bills and receives payments via the U.S. mail. AT&T has used the Postal Service for other purposes as well. By the early 1980s, AT&T’s workforce had grown to about one million employees, all of whom received their paychecks and communications from the company by mail. And after AT&T became a public company in 1899, its shareholders received their dividend checks through the U.S. mail for many decades until electronic payments became the more popular way to deliver dividends. Even today, more than 1 million AT&T shareholders receive copies of the company’s annual report and proxy statement via the U.S. mail. And AT&T sends instructions to millions more shareholders on how they can vote their shares at the company’s annual meeting.
The AT&T Delivery Innovations (ADI) team operates the company’s mail manufacturing facilities in Alpharetta, Ga., and West Sacramento, Calif., processing close to 4,000 mailing files each day and mailing approximately 40 million customer bills per month. ADI also supports several hundred internal client systems and processes, all of which comply with all U.S. Postal Service mailing requirements. The Postal Service verifies, accepts and transports mail picked up at our facilities to deliver to customers’ homes and businesses.
ADI team members have collaborated with the Postal Service and the mailing industry for years. AT&T is active in the Postmaster General’s Mailers’ Technical Advisory Committee and other mailing associations, providing insights on innovations in the industry. The Postal Service has also recognized the company’s efforts, presenting AT&T with its Partnership for Progress Award in 2011, Mail Innovation Award in 2013 and Supplier Performance Award in 2015.
In addition to customer bills and remittance payments sent through the mail, AT&T also sends marketing mail pieces to prospective and existing customers each year. AT&T also ships equipment to customers’ homes and businesses via the U.S. mail.
In 2015, total mail volume sent by AT&T was more than one billion pieces.
From the Railway Mail Service to the Amazon Package Delivery Program, the U.S. Postal Service has transformed itself more than once since its inception. Today, AT&T is proud to provide technology solutions that help USPS connect people and businesses. Mail carriers use AT&T-powered scanners that track letters and packages, manage routes and transmit safety messages.
We’ve also worked with the Postal Service to help put an end to distracted driving. Our It Can Wait campaign has inspired more than 8 million pledges from drivers who have said they will keep their eyes on the road, not on their phones. AT&T has added the It Can Wait message to billing envelopes. We also created an augmented reality experience — a new and creative way to educate drivers on the dangers of distracted driving. And we’ve promoted this new tool by highlighting it on pieces of mail we’ve sent through the U.S. Postal Service.
As technology continues to evolve, we’ll continue to collaborate with the U.S. Postal Service to build meaningful connections with our employees, shareholders and customers. It’s been a strong and historic partnership. And the best is yet to come.