Postal System


Franz von Taxis
Henry Bishop
Rowland Hill
William Dockwra

Franz von Taxis created the postal system, with regular routes between far-flung cities throughout Europe.

Eventually, von Taxis mail routes included mail delivery between Brussels and:

  • Innsbruck, 5.5 days (6.5 days winter)
  • Paris, 44 hours (54 hours winter)
  • Blois, 2.5 days (3 days winter)
  • Lyon, 4 days (5 days winter)
  • Granada, 15 days (18 days winter)
  • Toledo, 12 days (14 days winter)

Earlier “mail” services were diplomatic couriers, typically used for royalty. In contrast, von Taxis service was the first that regular people could purchase.

In early mail systems, recipients paid to receive the mail. Accordingly, they could and did sometimes refuse delivery. People gamed the system, writing messages on the outside of envelopes so the recipient could see the envelope, read the message, refuse delivery, and neither the sender nor recipient paid.

In 1680, William Dockwra built a better private mail system in the City of London by charging a flat-fee of one cent no matter whether the recipient agreed to accept the mail or not. His system worked so well that it quickly gained popularity not only with ordinary people and businesses — it’s intended recipient — but also royals. However, Dockwra was also the founder of the British Slave Trade and, accordingly, largely written out of history.

In 1788, the United States, as a new country, specifically authorized Congress to establish a national post office to facilitate commerce. Congress shall have the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads” they founding fathers of the country wrote into the US Constitution.

A functional post office was so important the new country appointed the first postmaster general, Samuel Osgood, just four days later. Soon, the young country was served by 75 post offices and 2,400 miles of “post roads” — roads specifically built to facilitate the delivery of mail. Some historians believe the early government-owned affordable postal system was key to the eventual commercial success of the new country.

England eventually took the hint about the need for and benefits of a national postal service. In 1837, Sir Rowland Hill may have invented the adhesive postage stamp that eventually evolved into a government-run postal system (James Chambers is also credited, with a stamp dating to 1834). In any event, Hill is the person who modernized the British postal system by charging rates based on weight rather than size. The US adopted adhesive postage stamps in 1847; before then postage was paid at post offices but not stamps were affixed.

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