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Whither the Post Office?

Questions about the fate of our local post office abound on NextDoor Leschi. The post office has a long and illustrious history of meeting the needs of the citizens to move their mail, later their packages and even helping them to bank for many decades.

Our first postmaster was the genius, Benjamin Franklin, who had been appointed postmaster of Philadelphia by the crown a few years earlier. He sped up mail service by improving the routes and then by sending out mail riders both day and night. He also mandated that the mail riders carry newspapers for a fee, thus improving communications between the colonies as well as the people. Probably this did him in, as the newspapers were more critical in the days before the revolution than the Dear Mom letters. He was removed from this position about a year after his appointment as “being too sympathetic to the colonists.”

Postal inspectors went to great lengths to improve mail service: mail steamboats, pony express, boats, sleds, snowshoes, mule trains in the Grand Canyon, flat-bottomed boats in the Louisiana bayous, dog sleds in Alaska until 1963 and now mail is dropped by parachute there. Snowmobiles are used in heavy snow country…should Seattle consider one or more of these?

RFD (rural free delivery) was started in 1891 with the current postmaster declaring that it “made more sense for one person to deliver mail than for 50 folks to come in to town to the local post office.” Parcel Post was authorized in 1912 when citizens became “enraged by the exorbitant prices charged by the private companies.” (Congress listened to the people in those olden days.) In 1911, the Postal Savings program was begun with deposits earning 2% interest. It wasn’t until after World War II that banks raised their interest rates and Postal savings declined. The program ended in 1967. The minimum deposit was only $1; try that at your local bank.

“Mr. Zip” was initiated in 1962, which helped to better sort mail for quicker delivery.

There have been attempts in later years to privatize the post office. When Nixon was President, a study showed that it would be too expensive and plans were dropped. But under the Bush II presidency the Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act was passed in 2003. This requires the post office to save health benefit costs for retired employees but due to the amount required, the postal service is paying for future employees that have not yet been born. No other agency has been required to do this. What private companies do