With the fairly recent advent of online shopping, virtual malls sprawl across vast cyberspace, enabling consumers to purchase everything from vehicles to high-quality stickers (wink!) with a few flicks of a finger. The ever-increasing demand for web-based commerce has created more challenges than ever on the United States Postal Service. One of few government services explicitly established in the Constitution, the American postal system remains in a state of perpetual evolution to meet the needs of a progressing nation.
Before a formal delivery network was established in America, colonial inns and taverns served as makeshift post offices. Casual networks of associates, merchants, and hired Native American couriers transported mail across the Eastern Seaboard in the absence of an official delivery service. However, this laid-back method was not very efficient for mailing documents, letters, and packages across the Atlantic to England. To combat this issue, the English government chartered a crude postal system that connected the colonies to each other and mainland England. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin became a postmaster general for this early postal service; he created more efficient routes for mail delivery and established standardized shipping rates. Franklin’s employment was short-lived, however, as he was eventually fired for his role in the American Revolution. Franklin’s redemption arrived in 1775. When the Continental Congress met to lay the foundation for an independent America, Franklin was once again elevated to power as the new nation’s first postmaster general.
Following the Revolutionary War, the philosophy of Manifest Destiny soon swept the country. Restless settlers boarded west-bound wagons to widen America’s borders. The unsurpassed expanse of the frontier made it impossible for the existing postal system to efficiently serve outlying populations. Enter the Pony Express. A faster option than mail steamships, the carefully selected riders of the Pony Express relayed mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the distant coasts of California. Riders could weigh no more than 125 pounds to ensure the swiftest transit time possible, placing the average Pony Express courier at approximately twenty years of age. Around 200 stations lined the service’s eastward and westward routes, allowing riders access to a fresh horse every fifteen miles. The Pony Express even issued a specialized, light-weight saddle called the mochilla to decrease time spent en route to delivery. Although the memory of the Pony Express lives on as a quintessential icon of the American West, the business itself collapsed when the transcontinental telegram proved a more reliable, quicker, and safer method of long-distance communication.
Today, the United States Postal Service is deadlocked in competition with other delivery services. Businesses like FedEx and the United Parcel Service (UPS) form the backbone of online commerce. In the face of decreasing mail volume, the United States Postal Service continues to adapt to a constantly changing commercial climate, bolstering its proud tradition as a cornerstone of communication in America.