Parcel Post service turned 100 years old in 2013. Before 1913, if you wanted to mail a parcel weighing more than four pounds, you had to use a private express company. Americans tired of high and unpredictable express company rates demanded a public parcels service. After decades of debate, the service was finally instituted on New Year’s Day in 1913.
Standard and easily understood rates were a key to the establishment of the service, as well as to its potential success. To that end the Post Office Department created a series of parcel post maps. The Department divided the nation into a series of more than 5700 numbered 30-mile square grids, scattered across eight zones. A zone map showing each post office’s location at the center of the zones was mailed to each postmaster.
This map, showing Washington, D.C. as the center part of the zones, was used to explain the service to the American public. Photographs of this map were provided to newspapers across the country. Many editors ran the image in stories announcing and explaining the service. As one newspaper put it, “For instance, take Keokuk, Ia., which is in a unit in the fifth zone. From that will be drawn circles exactly as they are drawn from Washington and they will be numbered from Keokuk as number one, just as they are numbered from Washington as number one. Keokuk’s Zone Six will be just as far from its center as Washington’s Zone Six is.”¹
Special parcel post stamps were printed and required for use on packages in the service. The stamps ranged from one-cent to $1 and included a variety of postal scenes as well as images from manufacturing (a steel mill) and agriculture (dairy cattle, harvesting, and fruit picking). The stamps reflect postal ambitions, including the first image of an airplane on a postage stamp. That 20-cent parcel post stamp depicted a biplane that was not far advanced from the first airplane to carry mail in the United States.
1)“Parcel Post Rates Regulated Through a System of Zones,”The Madison Journal, December 28, 1912, p. 2
Learn more about parcel post service in the United States
Written by Nancy A. Pope