Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Mail More Than Once a Day?

USPS-Mail-TruckThere's been a lot of talk for quite some time now about the possibility that the United States Postal Service might stop making home deliveries on Saturdays, in an effort to balance their budget with so much of their former purpose now being served via online communications. While my own personal preference would be to have some day in the middle of the week knocked out (Mondays, perhaps)—in recognition of the fact that for those of us who work, Saturday is the one day of current service whereby we might actually be home to receive our packages—I recognize that it really is only a matter of time before six-day-a-week deliveries are a thing of the past.

That said, I was more than a little surprised to learn that it wasn't that long ago that the Post Office used to make multiple home deliveries in a given day!

I stumbled upon this information while reading some old Philip Marlowe detective novels as written by Raymond Chandler in the 1940's. In these books, the fact that the mail arrives more than once a day is actually of significant importance in how Marlowe pieces together the facts in some of his cases. Never having experienced this reality in my own life, I was intrigued enough to do some research. Here's what I found:

Six-day-a-week mail service to one's home has been the norm in the United States since 1863, prior to which one was expected to go to the local Post Office to pick up one's mail unless you paid an extra fee for the privilege of having someone deliver it to you personally.

Of course, this free service only applied if you lived in an area with a population large enough to warrant the service, but because mail was so slow in getting from one Post Office to another, if one did live in a large enough population center, the postal carrier would make a delivery at whatever time of day the mail arrived, even if this meant multiple deliveries a day to the same address! Each local Postmaster was responsible for determining how many deliveries would be made in his area—there were no national guidelines standardizing the processes. Thus, a busy area like New York City is reported as having as many as nine deliveries a day in 1905.

By the beginning of the Marlowe era (the character was introduced in 1939), this luxury of multiple deliveries in a single day was already starting to be diminished in order to maximize efficiency as the mail was delivered. This reduction was further exacerbated during World War II, as many carriers were fighting overseas, and by 1950, the then-U.S. Postmaster General ordered local postmasters to start limiting deliveries to residential addresses to one delivery per day.*

Business deliveries were still made more than once a day for many years after that, although those have since been phased out, as well (the last such apparently taking place in the 1990s).

Just another reminder of how the world keeps on changing....

*Although I consulted multiple sources for this article, by far the most comprehensive information was found at this part of the USPS website, where among other things, I learned that although Sundays have been excluded from Postal Delivery in most areas since the beginning, there are actually exceptions, including the large Seventh-Day Adventist population of Loma Linda, CA, which gets Sunday delivery instead of Saturday delivery to this day!

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