U.S. Postal Service depends on an astonishing network of people and technology that collects, transports, sorts, and delivers the mail. Each stage of this process is represented in the National Postal Museum. While Systems at Work references all four stages, the exhibit focus is on the methods and machines used to sort and process America’s mail. The exhibit features a series of years that each show a piece of mail traveling from the collection point to delivery point and explains the transportation and sorting processes used in that era.
For a deeper examination of mail transportation systems through the centuries, look through the museum’s Moving the Mail exhibits. Here vehicles from dog sleds to airplanes are displayed, and the story of moving America’s mail told through the lens of several different transportation systems.
Core Processes: Collections, Processing, Transportation, Delivery
Collection – Then and Now
Today’s postal employees collect the mail from a variety of sources, including sidewalk mailboxes. Prior to 1863, Americans had to travel to the post office to deposit their mail. That year, Free City Delivery Service began in a selection of northern U.S. cities.
Processing – Then and Now
For over a century mail was sorted and processed by hand. By the late 19th century rudimentary cancelling machines began to put the system onto the road that led, by the second half of the 20th century, to massive mail processing centers where automated machinery dominates processing.
Transportation – Then and Now
Mail that once traveled at the speed of a horse now moves through the air, over the sea, and along roads in hundred-horse powered trucks.
Delivery – Then and Now
Just as mail was only collected at post offices prior to the mid 19th century, it would not be delivered to individual homes and businesses until the creation of Free City Delivery Service in 1863.