During early colonial times in the 1600s, few American colonists needed to send mail to each other; it was more likely that their correspondence was with letter writers in Britain. Mail deliveries from across the Atlantic were sporadic and could take many months to arrive. There were no Post Offices in the colonies, so mail was typically left at inns and taverns.
In 1753, Benjamin Franklin, who had been Postmaster of Philadelphia, became one of two joint Postmasters General for the colonies. He made numerous improvements to the mail system, including setting up new, more efficient colonial routes and cutting delivery time in half between Philadelphia and New York by having the weekly mail wagon travel both day and night via relay teams. Franklin also debuted the first rate chart, which standardized delivery costs based on distance and weight.
In 1774, the British fired Franklin from his Postmaster job because of his revolutionary activities. However, the following year, he was appointed Postmaster General of the United Colonies by the Continental Congress. Franklin held the job until late in 1776, when he was sent to France as a diplomat. He left a vastly improved mail system, with routes from Florida to Maine and regular service between the colonies and Britain. President George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood, a former Massachusetts congressman, as the first Postmaster General of the American nation under the new U.S. constitution in 1789. At the time, there were approximately 75 Post Offices in the country.
The Postal Service is a not-for-profit, self-supporting agency that covers its expenses through postage (stamp use in the United States started in 1847) and related products. The Postal Service gets the mail delivered, rain or shine, using everything from planes to mules. However, it’s not cheap: The U.S. Postal Service says that when fuel costs go up by just one penny, its own costs rise by $8 million.
Size and Scope
The United States Postal Service delivers more mail to more addresses in a larger geographical area than any other post in the world. The Postal Service delivers to more than 156 million addresses in every state, city and town in the country. Everyone living in the United States and its territories has access to postal products and services and pays the same for a First-Class postage stamp regardless of their location.
By the Numbers*
71.4 billion — 2016 operating revenue
153.9 billion — number of mailpieces processed and delivered
47 — percent of the world’s mail volume handled by USPS
1.9 billion — dollar amount paid every two weeks in salaries and benefits
508,908 ** — number of career employees
130,881 ** — number of non-career employees
31,585 — number of USPS-managed retail offices
227,896 — number of vehicles (one of the largest civilian fleets in world)
16.6 million — number of address changes processed
13.5 billion — total retail revenue
877.4 million — total number of retail customer visits
24 — percent of retail revenue from alternative access channels
1.7 billion — total number of visits to usps.com
280 million — total Postal Store revenue on usps.com
564 million — number of Click-N-Ship labels printed
$1.3 billion — total revenue, in dollars, from postage on Click-N-Ship labels
90.3 million — number of money orders issued
5,989,439 — number of passport applications accepted at Post Offices
$149.7 million — total revenue, in dollars, from passport applications
$440.2 million — amount in revenue from 2,835 postal Self-Service Kiosks
1.1 million — number of new delivery points added to the network in 2016
156.1 million — total number of delivery points nationwide
0 — tax dollars received for operating the USPS
* All information based on Fiscal Year 2016 data, unless otherwise noted.** As of Sept. 30, 2016