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Monday, May 25, 2020Before it was halted, people used to "mail" people, like this woman on a cargo flight to San Diego.

Before it was halted, people used to “mail” people, like this woman on a cargo flight to San Diego.



By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor


The art of letter writing, mailing pastel-colored birthday cards with floral stickers, and sending packages that need to be handled with care: Those are traditions still held dear by my mother, mother-in-law, and other seniors in my life. These traditions are directly tied to the belief that the post office will get each special delivery to the intended recipient in short order.


This quaint way of life and the deeply embedded trust that has endured for 250 years of the United States Postal Service, and which we too often take for granted, is in a fight for its life. Decreasing revenue in a dynamic marketplace has some congressional leaders speculating that the service could be out of business by June.


This is not new. The USPS has had a tumultuous and colorful existence, including 100 years ago when people would put stamps on their children and send them through the mail to their destination, Boyce Upholt writes for NatGeo. (Pictured above, a woman who was shipped air mail in an early plane’s cargo.) In forming the Post Office, the founders had wanted a service that connected the scattered populous of the new United States. For two centuries, the agency would drive the expansion of roads and transit, strengthen the nation’s connections with its rural communities, and brave all conditions to bring packages to citizens’ front doors, Uphold writes.


By 1860, these roads linked 28,000 post offices, where people sometimes waited in long lines to pick up their mail in an era before home delivery. In the 1990s the Postal Service was turning a profit. But since 2007, first class mail has dropped 34 percent. It’s greatest source of revenue is delivering packages fueled by an ever-expanding online shopping addiction.


For our family, the Postal Service is like a trusted member. Just last week, I felt guilty when the mail delivery woman had to lug three giant boxes of groceries packaged in cardboard from her truck to my front door. Not that long ago the Postal Service lost a quilt that was mailed to me, made of fabrics from important life moments. Their apology wasn’t particularly emphatic and I was really upset. I vowed to use other services to get packages where they need to go.


Not long thereafter I came around, acknowledging the important role of the Postal Service in keeping us connected. I hope we don’t learn this lesson after it’s too late to do anything about it.


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