Featuring Research Volunteer Contributions

Mail Processing

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Man in the moon fancy cancel handstamp

What happens when you drop a letter in the mailbox? How does a package get to its final destination? Although the general public rarely gets a look behind the scenes, mail processing is not that mysterious. All across America, postal employees follow the same basic steps: mail is collected, distributed, sorted, transported, and delivered to its final destination.

Mail processing begins with mail preparation. Once mail has been collected, it must be faced and cancelled. Facing aligns all of the letters in the same direction so that they can be cancelled by a machine. Canceling marks the stamps so they cannot be used again and adds a postmark. After the preparation, the mail is sorted and transported to the local post office at its final destination. Letter carriers take the mail the last few miles of its journey, taking care that each letter gets to the correct address.

Some post offices and mail sorting centers offer tours. Contact your local postmaster to see if you can get a behind the scenes peek to see how the mail is processed.

Allison Marsh, National Postal Museum

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