Mail Processing Machines
The Post Office Department’s costs were increasing each year, but the Department was mostly using old-fashioned methods that were expensive and inefficient. Little had changed in how the Post Office processed mail – almost all of it was done by hand. However, the increasing mail volume that the Post Office Department handled every year made changes in mail processing necessary to its survival.
Machines in the Post Office
To improve the efficiency of the Post Office Department, machines were introduced. The first was a cancelling machine, replacing clerks’ need to hand cancel mail piece by piece. Culling machines sorted the mail by size so the right pieces would be forwarded to the right processing machines. Edger-stacker machines were built to help other machines by stacking the mail for faster processing. Stamps could be detected and canceled by facer-canceller machines.(1) Conveyor systems, such as “Mail-Flo,” helped to move mail within post offices. Hamper-dumpers allowed workers to dump large volumes of mail with less strain. Parcel sorting machines and letter sorting machines gave a mechanical hand to workers sorting mail.
Following these advances in mechanization were those in automation. Postal automation technology was led by the use of optical character recognition in which machines could read and sort the mail without an operator’s direct input. “Automatic” Post Offices, such as Project Turnkey and Project Gateway, were built to get the most out of the machines as possible while reducing the human element as much as possible as well.
On the customer’s end of things, new and more efficient vending machines were developed to speed up customers’ time in post offices or increase the hours during which people could use post offices. Speed Mail was developed to send facsimiles instantly across the country, (although it did not advance past the experimental stage). A reported noted that “About the only postal facility which may defy this far-reaching change, postmen say, is the trusty, age-old mail pouch. Federal engineers report they cannot improve on its efficient, collapsible features.”(2)
The first machine that was used in post offices was the cancelling machine. The first patented cancelling machine was created in 1875 by Thomas and Martin Leavitt. It was followed by improved machines through the 1879s. The first cancelling machine was hand-cranked and hand-fed and could only cancel items of the same size and shape. The Leavitt machine pioneered the basic characteristics shared by cancelling machines. Feed rollers separated and introduced a piece of 'faced mail' into the machine, one at a time and spaced apart. The mail piece progressed to a rotating cancelling die hub and ring die. After the postmark and cancellation impressions were made on the mail piece, it passed to a stacker. Mail pieces accumulated in the stacker until removed by the machine operator.
Various inventors worked on broadening the scope of cancelling machines’ use, in acknowledgement of the large percentage of letter mail. The basic model for this machine was created by inventors in the early 1900s but was not tested until the 1920s. It was the only type of cancelling machine used in post offices until after World War II.(3) The letters were separated by hand and had to be positioned all in the same direction, with different sized letters separated, in preparation for the cancelling machine. The letters were then “fed through an old-style, hand-fed cancelling machine, which canceled the stamps and postmarked the letters.”(4) There was thus still a lot of manual labor that had to be done before the cancelling machine could even be useful. When the culling machine was invented, though, the process to get to the cancelling of the stamp became much more efficient and faster, requiring much less labor to cull, or separate, a greater amount of mail.
The culling machine was designed to separate pieces of mail depending on their size. Previously, each piece of mail would have to be sorted by hand into different piles of sizes. With the culling machine, the mail could be mechanically sorted. The culling machine was able to save space, make more sanitary conditions to work in, and increase overall productivity.(5)
Working like a sieve, in which the smaller items drop down to lower conveyors, the sorting machine could sort flats, (large, flat envelopes), rolled-up papers, and packages from ordinary letter mail.(6) The letter mail could then proceed to other machinery, as could the other pieces of mail.
A study on culling machines, however, found that they were not initially very economical. While they saved some money over manual culling, the speed of mechanical culling was about the same as manual. Thus, there was not an initial saving.(7) The study called for changes to be made to culling machines to make them more efficient, and if this could not be done, then to manually cull the mail. The machines required skilled operators, and therefore it might be easier to revert to manual culling.(8) The Post Office Department put more resources into the development of culling machines and saw improvement.
In 1960 a culling machine was designed that had “a series of inclined belts and rotating horizontal cylinders to remove the oversize pieces.”(9) This design was able to cull approximately 60,000 pieces of letter mail every hour. A further machine was made that would separate letter mail from other various small items sent in the mail, such as hotel keys. This help save subsequent machines from getting damaged by such small items of mail.(10)
After the mail was culled, it had to be stacked in a similar direction to be placed through to the cancelling machine. In most offices, this job still had to be done by hand. However, some employees in the Nashville, Tennessee post office came up with an idea for a machine that would be able to mechanically do this task, the edger-stacker machine.
These edger-stacker machines were able to eliminate the hand stacking required before going through the facer-canceller machines that came next in the mechanized process.(11) The letters would be stacked next to the facer-canclers for a postal employee to feed them into the next machine.(12)
The Post Office Department was proud of this machine because it had been a created by postal employees. Overall, the edger-stacker was very successful. The “home-made” device “showed an annual return on investment ranging from about 70% at Wichita, Kansas, to 566% at Flint, Michigan.”(13)
The machine that came after either the culling machine or the edger-stacker was the facer-canceller. This machine had the ability to automatically face letters before cancelling, which means that letter mail could be put into the machine in any direction and all the mail coming out of the machine would be “facing” the same direction when the letter mail comes out of the facer-canceller. Letters would therefore not have to be faced by hand before being cancelled.
Stacked letters could enter the machine and be canceled at rates of up to 500 a minute. This machine increased efficiency by allowing six people working on them to be able to cancel approximately 27,000 letters every hour. Previously, letters were canceled at a rate of about 16,000 per hour with ten men crews. Facer-cancellers thus helped decrease the amount of employees working on cancelling while increasing the overall rate.(14)
These machines were first developed in the contractor’s laboratories in 1958.(15) The initial facer-cancellers would use light sensors to detect where the stamp is in order to be able to flip the letter mail if necessary to face the stamp to be canceled correctly. Optical sensors were able to locate the position of stamps by detecting any kind of color contrast that would be present between the color of the envelope and the color of stamps. This method had a major drawback, though, in which “Insufficient contrast or printing on the envelope [could] deceive the detection device.(16)
Nevertheless, the facer-cancellers were seen as a large improvement over the old cancelling machines, and they were a crucial part of the mechanization and modernization program of the Post Office Department. However, there continued to be some issues with the machines. Because of the optical sensing device used to locate the stamps and the possible inability to do so because of a lack of contrast, the machine had a high rejection rate of twelve to fourteen percent. The production rate was seen as being lower than it should be, but it was increasing over time. For the first couple of years of service, there was an irregular mail flow from the machines, but this problem was solved early on.(17)
The next development in the evolution of the facer-canceller machine was to change the sensing device from being able to distinguish color contrasts to being able to detect stamps that were tagged with luminescent substances. The first stamp that was released that was fully “tagged” with a phosphorescent code was a 5 cent stamp that commemorated the 100th anniversary of free city delivery which had an image of a Norman Rockwell sketch of a letter carrier. Experiments had initially been conducted with an 8 cent tagged air mail stamp. The tagged stamp, when hit by the ultraviolet light that was produced by the NCR Mark II Facer-Canceller machine, would glow green, which the machine would be able to sense. While this machine could not process the letter mail much faster than its predecessor, processing 30,000 letters an hour, the rejection rate was much lower with the new machine.(18) This phosphorescent ink that was used to tag the stamps was invisible to the human eye.(19)
The stamp tagging program greatly improved the rate of letters that would be able to be processed by facer-cancellers. The error rate with the previous Mark II Facer-Cancellers that used the optical contrast technique for sensing the stamps was approximately 16.4% for letters that bypassed the machine without being canceled and 3.4% for error rate in stacking, which made a total of almost 20% of letters that would not be properly canceled.(20) The new facer-cancellers, with ultraviolet detection capabilities, were processing mail with over 98% efficiency, and the goal of the Department was to get this above 99%.(21)
Facer-cancellers were a vital part of the mechanization program of the Post Office Department because of the manual handling that could be eliminated by the use of such machines. Though the letters that passed through the machines would have to be manually faced and canceled, this was still a vast improvement on all the mail being manually processed. The cost of the machines was significant, with an initial price of $18,000 and approximately $7,000 a year to maintain.(22) Nevertheless, they speeded up mail processing and made the operation more efficient.
The Post Office Department, in its desire to mechanize as much of the mail processing as possible, developed a system of conveyor belts that could be placed in larger post offices to eliminate as much manual handling and carrying of mail as possible. The idea was that such a system would reduce strain on workers and the number of employees needed, while also speeding up mail processing within post office facilities.
The conveyor system came to be called the Mail-Flo Letter Processing System or Mail-Flo for short. The first Mail-Flo system was installed in the Detroit post office, and utilized conveyors that would operate automatically to move the mail within the post office. The goal was that such a means of moving the mail, along with other systems such as overhead conveyors, would ultimately eliminate “hampers, boxes, or inside trucks” in the larger post offices, with the ideal that “mail [would] never come to rest.”(23) The Detroit post office started operating the Mail-Flo system on December 4, 1956.
By 1958 the Detroit post office increased the use of the Mail-Flo system to cover both incoming and outgoing mail. This helped to clear the floor of many pieces of “portable equipment previously required in the manual movement of letter mail among the work stations.”(24) The idea for such mechanization of automatic conveyor belts was not new; private businesses had been using them for years. The installation by the Post Office Department was a large step towards eliminating the human element as much as possible in the moving of the mail and letting career postal employees perform less manual labor of lifting and carrying.(25)
At the end of 1958 and the beginning of 1959 the main Washington, D.C. post office building(26) was refurbished to become the most mechanized post office in the United States, and as the Post Office Department promoted it, the “World’s Most Mechanized Post Office.”(27) Along with having several machines, the Washington, D.C. post office had over six miles of electric conveyor belts installed in it. The Post Office Department further planned on installing the Mail-Flo system in eight total major post offices. The total length of the Mail-Flo system in all of the installations together would be approximately 262,000 feet, which is about 50 miles of conveyor belts.(28)
The plan to double the amount of post offices that had Mail-Flo systems running in them started in 1959. The system was applauded by the Department as being able to “[move] trays of mail between sorting areas smoothly and efficiently, without clutter and confusion.”(29)
While the Mail-Flo systems were initially found to be a success, a study done in 1960 by the POD’s Mechanization and Mail Processing Study Team found that no more Mail-Flo systems should be placed in post offices and plans to install them were canceled. The team found that the systems would have to be reevaluated because before and after cost studies of the systems showed that they cost more than had previously been thought to run. The Mail-Flo system would therefore have to become more efficient before it would be placed in other post offices undergoing mechanization refurbishments.(30)
A reevaluation cost study of Mail-Flo systems done in 1965 by the Department’s Bureau of Finance came to the conclusion that instead of making post offices more efficient, Mail-Flo was actually increasing the costs of some of the mail processing operations.(31) While the Mail-Flo system was not very economical, the age of conveyor belts in post offices had started, and electronic conveyor belts were continually placed in major post office facilities.
Another piece of equipment that was designed to help reduce the manual labor strain on workers in post offices was the “hamper-dumper.” Hamper-dumpers were used to dump large hampers of mail onto sorting tables and conveyor systems such as the Mail-Flo. It was estimated that the machine would “eliminate approximately 95 percent of the manual labor normally required in emptying a hamper piece by piece.”(32) Furthermore, productivity was expected to increase by 100 percent and also reduce damage done to parcels during mail processing.(33)
Parcel Sorting Machine
Because of their larger size, most parcels had to be dealt with by hand during mail processing. The parcel sorting machine, helped to reduce the manual work that it took to process parcels. The first parcel sorting machines were controlled by operators that sorted parcels by keying their destinations into the machine.(34) Postal officials believed that parcel sorting machines could be very valuable in mechanization of post offices and conducted tests on different concepts for such machines to determine the most efficient model that could be produced.(35)
The main difference that was tested was the method that the operators used to help the machines sort the parcels. The initial machine was done by operating a keyboard, but a possible advancement of the machine was switching to one that could be operated by hearing spoken commands from operators. One reason for this was because of the extreme variety that came in parcel sizes compared to the sizes of letter mail. The “Parcels would move on conveyors past clerks who would pronounce the essential address into a microphone. The impulses thus generated would pass through electronic “memories” which would activate gates along the conveyor to discharge the parcels into appropriate bins.”(36)
The first parcel sorting machine was placed in the Baltimore post office for testing as one of the earlier machines that was tested by the Post Office Department.(37) While the machine could save some space if manual methods would have had to have been continued with the increasing mail load, the machines were also quite large.(38) The Washington, D.C. post office, contained a parcel sorting machine that used approximately one mile of conveyor belts and had a maximum height of over fifteen feet. The total weight for the machine was 125 tons.(39) The machine could sort about 15,000 parcels every hour, which cut processing time for parcels in half compared to the manual methods that were previously used.(40)
While the potential ability of the machine to sort parcels much faster than only using manual methods, the machine was not always used as efficiently as possible. A cost analysis report of the Webb Parcel Post Sorting Machine, which was used in the Washington, D.C. post office, found that the machine was only being used to 41.8% of its potential capacity during the period studied. The reporting group concluded that the machines should be used more to further reduce spending on labor.(41)
A separate machine for sorting unusually sized items such as small parcels and rolled newspapers was designed in August 1958. However, it was concluded in May 1960 that such a machine, which was separate from the main parcel sorter was uneconomical because hand sorting of such a large variety of sized mail would be less expensive. The report also recommended, though, that a “flat” sorter for pieces of mail such as large, flat envelopes and magazines might be practical. An experimental machine was designed for testing for sorting flats in 1961.(42)
In 1961 there were 21 parcel sorting machines that were installed in post offices or under contract for installation.(43) By 1965 there were 72 parcel sorting machines installed or under contract.(44) Increased efficiency was achieved, and more tests were done with voice recognition. In 1962, to “further improve the reliability of tray routing systems, parcel and sack sorting systems, and potentially mechanical letter sorters, experiments have been conducted with routing and sorting signal recording devices whose principle of operation is similar to a tape recorder. By placing strips of magnetic material in the bottom of each mail tray, it was found that such signals could be reliably recorded and read.”(45) The Department hoped that, with the implementation of ZIP Codes(46), operators would be able to state the ZIP Code for the packages at a rate of 60 parcels per minute with an expected error rate of only 2 percent.(47)
Letter Sorting Machine
Because so much of mail processing is sorting, the Post Office Department wanted to develop letter sorting machines that would mechanically or automatically process the mail. Several types of sorting machines were designed, from ones which an operator would key in a code which would send the letter to a destination box to machines that automatically read addresses and sort them into boxes. Although the POD started studying the idea of a letter sorting machine in 1922, no real work could be done on such a machine until postal budgets (and the will to modernize) increased after the Second World War.(48) By that time it was a critically needed piece of machinery.
In 1956 it was stated in the POD annual report than mechanical sorting machines would be running experimentally the next year. The machines would be able to make between 300 and 500 separations (a division used in sorting mail – state, city, ZIP Code, house number, etc.).(49) By 1958 two letter sorting machines were being tested, the “Bell” machine and the “Transorma” machine.(50) The Bell Sorting Machine could sort more than 300,000 letters a day to 300 destinations when fully manned with six operators.(51)
In 1959 the first American-built letter sorting machine was debuted by the Burroughs Corporation. At the time it was the world’s largest letter sorting machine.(52) By 1962 the Post Office Department was developing a portable sorting machine that could be operated by one person. This machine could be used in smaller post offices.(53) However, the large machines would provide the biggest benefits. In a study on letter sorting and processing, it was determined that “There appears to be fairly substantial evidence that one or more 20-operator sorting machines could be used in each of the 75 to 125 largest post offices.”(54)
There were essentially two different types of mechanized sorting machines. The first was a keysort machine. An operator would read an address and sort the letter by pressing a memorized key pattern for the address. The second was the codesort machine. At these machines, operators would not have to memorize a pattern, but would key in codes based on addresses.(55)
By 1968 the multiposition letter sorting machine was being installed in post offices, which was a “semiautomic, electro-mechanical machine that distributes letters into 160 to 279 separations at speeds up to 43,200 letters per hour”.(56) At this time there were 137 letter sorting machines operational in 37 offices.(57) In one year, the number of sorting machines jumped to 205 in 79 post offices with more on order.(58) The letter sorting machines took up a great deal of space in the post offices. One large letter sorting machine was 78 feet long and weighed 15 tons. The difference between letter sorting machines and manually sorting the mail was vast.
Although the letter sorting machine was eventually more efficient, there were studies early on in the development of sorting machines that showed that manual sorting was still more cost effective than the machines.(59) Nevertheless, the Post Office Department continued research and development on the machines and they eventually became a critical part of the Department’s mechanization and modernization program.
Optical Character Recognition
The Post Office Department had high hopes for optical character recognition, which the Department hoped could eliminate the majority of the human element from sorting mail. Instead of postal workers reading the addresses and sorting the pieces of mail accordingly, machines would be able to automatically read the addresses and sort the mail without the need of an operator.
Research and development of optical character recognition [OCR] began for the Post Office Department in the 1950s. The Farrington Manufacturing Company began development on the Farrington Automatic Address Reader in 1954. This machine could eventually “recognize through its character-sensing apparatus, type-written, imprinted or printed addresses, single or double-spaced, staggered or flush, almost anywhere on the facing of the envelope” and then sort the pieces of mail into different slots.(60)
There were two main ways that machines could automatically recognize characters. One way was optical, in that a machine would use photo-electric cells to sense and read printed material. Another way was to use magnetic ink scanning to scan for ink that contained iron oxides.(61) While over-marking and lack of contrast could be problems for optical recognition, it was more practical for everyone to use than magnetic ink scanning.
Initial problems for optical character recognition machines were mostly based on the fact that people’s handwriting styles vary widely and machines could not initially be taught how to recognize many samples. However, by analyzing the length of the strokes and the location of the strokes, some handwriting could be read.(62)
The potential benefits for optical character recognition were vast. In a contract with Farrington Manufacturing Company, the Post Office Department was trying to have a machine created that could read and sort at least 10,000 letters per hour, which was triple what could be done with employees working semi-automatic machines then being tested.(63) Initially only typewritten addresses could be read, but research began to be directed into reading handwritten addresses. The optical character recognition system was one of the most important technologies in development for the Post Office Department.
In 1965 more work was being done with optical scanners, which by then could read ZIP Codes. A machine was made that would scan letters before entering OCR machines and presort them by whether they were readable or not.(64) The Department’s reading machine was the “first to be used by any postal service in the world.(65) By this time, the machines were over fifteen times faster than manual sorting of the mail.(66) The first machine that was used for live mail started on November 30, 1965 in the Detroit post office, and could sort letters that had ZIP Codes on them at rates of 36,000 per hour.(67)
The Department saw OCR machines as the future of post office sorting and processing. The Director of Research and Development in 1968, Dr. Edward Reilley, predicted that by 1978 mail processing would be done almost all automatically.(68) The benefits from using OCR over hand-sorting were that money and time were saved in processing mail. It was “estimated that over 50 percent of the total labor involved in mail processing within a post office can be attributed to sorting operations where visual recognition of letter addresses is necessary.(69) With OCR this would thus almost reduce the labor needed for mail processing in half.
Projects Turnkey and Gateway (“Automatic” Post Offices)
The goal behind Turnkey and Gateway was to try to create a completely automated post office. Project Turnkey, located in a new facility built for this purpose in Providence, Rhode Island, was so named because it was supposed to be built and then be able to work with the turn of a key. Project Gateway, located in the Oakland, California post office, got its name from the idea that it would be the “gateway” for most mail flow to and from much of the Pacific Coast area.(70)
The costs of the post offices were expensive, but defended by the Post Office Department as good investments because the post offices would be experimental laboratories from which future benefits to the Department would come.(71) The Post Office Department was hopeful that these post offices would work well and process mail more efficiently. When asked what he thought the “Post Office of Tomorrow” would be like, Postmaster General Summerfield predicted that it would resemble the Providence and Oakland post offices.(72)
Other post offices around the country were also being modernized at this time. In 1960 it was announced that a major post office would be built in Detroit that would be fully mechanized. The new Detroit post office would utilize the machinery that was currently in development and would have space for future machines as well.(73) The Detroit Post Office was “the first large post office to be highly mechanized and equipped completely with American-made mail processing equipment and machines.”(74)
Project Turnkey, the Providence Post Office, was also designed to be able to fit the machinery necessary to process mail. The building was one story, and only had two supporting columns to maximize the floor space for machinery. The Post Office Department declared that the building would contain “perhaps the greatest number of special purpose machines ever created for a single business.”(75) Most post offices that were undergoing modernization were being outfitted with machines in their current buildings, which were not made for large machines. What made Project Turnkey promising is that the machines were designed before the building, which would allow for the maximum potential benefits from the mechanized post office to possibly be realized.(76)
The hopes for the success of Project Turnkey were high. One reporter wrote that “Were it not for the probability promised by Project Turnkey, all of us (letter carriers and letter receivers), by 1985 or before, would be swimming in a sea of mail.”(77)
However, Projects Turnkey and Gateway were not the successes that they were initially made out to (or hoped to) be. In April of 1961 a memo was sent out for the discontinuance of the terms Turnkey and Gateway.(78) In a report to Congress several issues concerning Turnkey were revealed. For one, “the Post Office Department [was] not processing mail in the Providence postal facility for the geographic area that the installation was designed to serve.”(79) Furthermore, the main mail processing machines were not being used to their full potential and some were not being used at all. The report concluded that “the Department did not make appropriate studies and, as a result, prior to the commitment of the Government to expenditures in excess of $40 million over the life of the lease, had not determined if the proposed mail-handling equipment and system would be adequate to process mail efficiently, if savings could be expected from mechanization of mail-handling operations, and if the contractor was technically capable of designing and constructing a mail-handling facility and mechanized mail-handling system.”(80)
Another problem with Turnkey was that the employees were not given enough training for machine operation. Employee morale was also detrimentally affected by local newspapers that were criticizing the operation.(81) The Providence Post Office never really became fully automated as had been advertised beforehand. A House subcommittee determined that Project Turnkey “failed miserably” and the costs of the post office were “grossly excessive.”(82)
Some defended Project Turnkey as being more successful than what was being said about it. The post office did save money by having to hire only one tenth of the temporary workers than were needed the previous year and required less overtime from workers.(83) Some employees were pleased with their work there, happy that they were doing less manual labor than was required before the machines were brought to Providence.(84) Furthermore, some Department technicians stated that Turnkey was actually performing better than anticipated and that it needed to be remembered that the Providence post office was an experiment and no one was sure of exactly what would happen with it.(85)
Vending machines had been introduced for public use long before the mechanization program began. For customer convenience, machines that could sell stamps were placed in public areas of post offices. While the lobby was open, even if the postal counters were closed, customers could purchase stamps. The machines were popular features in post offices through the early and mid 20th century.
In 1955 new vending machines were developed that would not only sell stamps, but could also sell stamp books, envelopes, and postal cards.(86) In the Washington, D.C. post office a new vending machine, produced by Pitney-Bowes Postage Meter Company called the Mailomat, was installed in 1956; a previous version was first installed in Boston in 1948.(87) The Mailomat would stamp and deposit mail for later processing. It “automatically [printed] a postmarked meter stamp in all denominations from one to 33 cents directly on letters of varying sizes.”(88) After accepting the mail, the Mailomat would automatically stack and face the letters for faster processing, sending them to the work area of the Post Office for the quickest possible service. Such automatic movement of the mail was felt to be in line with the Department’s goal of “streamlining” the postal service.(89) Quicker service was also obtained by use of the Mailomat because the metered mail that would be bought through the machine would not have to be canceled because they were already postmarked.(90)
Public response to the vending machines continued to be positive and more vending machines were placed in post offices nationwide. Because these machines were so popular, the Post Office Department came up with the idea for fully automatic post offices that would be self-service. Because they required no clerks, these post offices could be open 24 hours a day.(91)
A program that began under Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield, but did not ever fully get its feet off the ground was “Speed Mail.” Some thought that the post office might eventually get rid of normal letter mail entirely and send everything by typewriter or through facsimiles.(92) In 1956 post office officials began discussing research into trying to electronically transmit facsimiles which “would permit such messages to cross the continent almost instantaneously.”(93)
When the Speed Mail system was developed though, thoughts on the practicality of such a device were uncertain. One post office that was allowed to test it reported that “…it would appear to us that speed mail would be of advantage to us only on occasional or emergency basis.”(94) However, some postal officials were still optimistic about such a system. A letter was sent to President Eisenhower through Speed Mail to test the system in 1960. It was expected at the time that Speed Mail would, within a few years, “make possible overnight first-class mail delivery from any post office in the United States to another.”(95)
Use of Speed Mail would not take away from the privacy that came with sending letters, which was one major concern that people had about using such a system. The Post Office Department assured people that no one would be able to see the contents of the letter except for the person sending it and the recipient. The messages were to be “inserted in a machine at one post office, converted into electrical impulses, relayed to another post office by microwave, and automatically switched to a suburban station or another post office in a few seconds. These impulses can be reconverted at the receiving end into a facsimile of the original document and delivered to the addressee.”(96)
When Postmaster General Day took over in early 1961, he decided to end the Speed Mail project. He reported that the program was expensive, having cost the Department approximately four and a half million dollars, and that there was competition with private businesses in the development of the program. He told that House Post Office Appropriations Subcommittee that he halted the program because “There is great doubt as to whether facsimile mail is mail at all… this is not an area for the Post Office Department to pursue; the service is provided by private firms… [and] the necessity of special service at the delivery end makes the facsimile service a very expensive per-item operation.”(97)
In 1969 in a Study of Electronic Handling of Mail by the General Dynamics Electronics Division stated that a possible future of mail delivery might be electronically through televisions. They reported that “cable television networks are quite common today, and they would form the background for the transmission of the mail directly to the home in electronic form. The nebulous area, of course, lies in popular acceptance of the system, and in the problem of sanctity. The market for non-electronic mail delivery will probably remain, even after all of the new concepts are put into practice.”(98) The Post Office Department, however, kept out of electronic delivery of mail and left this to private businesses.