It was one of the great characters in the story of America’s founding who created the United States Postal Service. Even before the new country’s independence was declared, Benjamin Franklin established the United States Post Office, which would lay the foundation for the postal service as we know it today.
Franklin’s Post Office was competing initially with smaller, regional postal services as well as the Crown Post, which was administered by the British government and becoming less popular as the colonies moved closer to revolution. The idea of a unified, national postal service was nothing new, however it would become an important bit of infrastructure in aiding the American Revolution. This contribution was recognized when the United States had won its independence, and the United States Postal Service would become officially endorsed by being included in the Constitution. The postmaster general was a part of the president’s cabinet, and even in the line of presidential succession!
The cost to send a letter in the late 18th Century depended on how distant its destination was. The lowest postage rate was 6 cents, while the highest was 25 cents. Back then, the recipient paid the postage upon delivery. The introduction of postage stamps in 1847 allowed for the prepayment of postage, which would become required eight years later. Prepaid postage reduced revenue loss and allowed the postal service to operate more efficiently.
As the young country expanded westward, so did its postal service. During that time, advances in transportation, such as railroads and steamships, increased the post office’s reach, as well as improving the speed and reliability of mail delivery. But the technology couldn’t expand as rapidly as they country’s borders were, and in 1860 a new competitor would arise to fill the need for the timely delivery of messages in the rough and rugged Western territories.