The Postal System of the United States and the New York General Post Office

The Postal System of the United States and the New York General Post Office

Thomas C. Jefferies
Thomas C. Jefferies

Author: Jefferies, Thomas C.
Postal service — United States
Postal service — New York (State) — New York
The Postal System of the United States and the New York General Post Office
The cover image was created by the transcriber and is placed in the public domain.

The Postal System
of The United States
The New York
General Post Office

Prepared and Issued by
Manufacturers Trust Company
New York     Brooklyn     Queens

Copyright, 1922, by

Honorable Hubert Work, Postmaster General.
Honorable Hubert Work, Postmaster-General, was a practising physician for many years in Colorado prior to entering government service, and was also President of the American Medical Association. He served as first assistant postmaster-general under Postmaster-General Will H. Hays, his predecessor, who, upon assuming management of the Post-office Department, practically dedicated it as an institution for service and not for politics or profit. Since that time all possible efforts have been made to humanize it.
The administration of Mr. Hays was ably assisted by Mr. Work who had direct supervision of the 52,000 post-offices and more than two-thirds of all postal workers. By persistent efforts to build up the spirit of the great army of postal workers and bring the public and the post-office into closer contact and more intimate relationship, the postal system has been placed at last on a footing of service to the public.
Mr. Work is an exponent of a business administration of the postal service, and representatives of the larger business organizations and Chambers of Commerce, from time to time, are called into conference, in order that the benefit of their suggestions and their experience may be obtained and their fullest co-operation enlisted in the campaign for postal improvement.

Statement Prepared for the
Manufacturers Trust Company

By Honorable Hubert Work, postmaster-general
The need for a more general understanding of the purpose of the postal establishment, its internal workings and the problems of operation, is paramount if it is to afford the ultimate service which it is prepared to render.
The business man, whose success is definitely connected with its smooth operation, especially should be concerned with the directions for its use. The post-office functions automatically, so far as he is concerned, after he drops the letter into the slot; but before this stage is reached, a certain amount of preparation is necessary. He could scarcely expect to operate an intricate piece of machinery without first learning the various controls, and no more is it to be expected that he can secure the utmost benefit from such a diversified utility as the postal service without knowing how to use the parts at his disposal.
Accordingly our efforts have been directed to the circulation of essential postal information, and with the aid of the public press and the coöperation of persons and organizations using the service, the people throughout the country are now better informed on postal affairs than at any time in its history.
The recognition of the human element is a recent forward step in postal administration. Although the post-office has probably been the most powerful aid to the development of a social consciousness, the management until recently seems to have overlooked the relative value of the individual in the postal organism.
The individual postal worker is now considered to be the unit, and the effort to maintain the service at a high standard of efficiency is based upon the betterment of his physical environment and the encouragement of the spirit of partnership by enlisting his intelligent interest in the problems of management and recognizing his real value to the postal organization. Suggestions for improvement are invited and considered from those within the service as well as those without, and it is believed that a full measure of usefulness will not be attained until the American public, which in this sense includes the postal workers themselves, are convinced that the service belongs to them.


The postmaster-general is assisted in the administration of the Post-office Department by four assistant postmasters-general. The first assistant postmaster-general has supervision over the postmasters, post-office clerks, and city letter carriers at all post-offices, as well as the general management of the postal business of those offices, the collection, delivery, and preparation of mail for despatch. The second assistant postmaster-general is concerned entirely with the transportation of mail by rail (both steam and electric), by air, and by water. He supervises the railway mail, air mail, foreign mail services, and adjusts the pay for carrying the mail. The third assistant postmaster-general is the financial official of the department and has charge of the money-order and registry service, the distribution of postage-stamps, and the classification of mail matter. The fourth assistant postmaster-general directs the operation of the rural delivery service, the distribution of supplies, and the furnishing of equipment for the post-offices and railway mail service.
In addition to the four assistants there is a solicitor, or legal officer; a chief post-office inspector, who has jurisdiction over the traveling inspectors engaged in inspecting, tracing lost mail, and investigating mail depredations, or other misuse of the mail; a purchasing agent; a chief clerk, who supervises the clerical force at headquarters in Washington; and a controller, who audits the accounts of the 52,000 postmasters.

The Postmaster General and General Administration Assistants.
   1—Hon. Hubert Work, Postmaster General.
   2—Hon. John H. Bartlett, First Assistant Postmaster General.
   3—Hon. Paul Henderson, Second Assistant Postmaster General.
   4—Hon. W. Irving Glover, Third Assistant Postmaster General.
   5—Hon. H. H. Billany, Fourth Assistant Postmaster General.

Year Post-  Extent of Gross Revenue  Gross Expenditure
(Fiscal) offices Post-routes of Department of Department  
   (Number) (Miles)    
1800 903 20,817 $ 280,806 $ 213,884
1850 18,417 178,672 5,499,985 5,212,953
1860 28,498 240,594 8,518,067 19,170,610
1870 28,492 231,232 19,772,221 23,998,837
1880 42,989 343,888 33,315,479 36,542,804
1890 62,401 427,990 60,882,098 66,259,548
1900 76,688 500,989 102,354,579 107,740,267
1910 59,580 447,998 224,128,658 229,977,224
1921 52,050   1,152,000   263,491,274   620,993,673


  Money Domestic Money-orders Iss. International Money-orders Iss. Postal Notes Issued
Year order            
(Fiscal) offices Number  Value     Number  Value     Number  Value    
1865 419 74,277 $ 1,360,122.52        
1870 1,694 1,671,253 34,054,184.71   $ 22,189.70    
1875 3,404 5,006,323 77,431,251.58 102,250 1,964,574.88    
1880 4,829 7,240,537 100,352,818.83 221,372 3,463,862.83    
1885 7,056 7,725,893 117,858,921.27 448,921 6,480,358.83 5,058,287 $  9,996,274.37
1890 9,382 10,624,727 114,362,757.12 859,054 13,230,135.71  6,927,825  12,160,489.60
1895 19,691 22,031,120 156,709,089.77 909,278 12,906,485.67    
1900 29,649 32,060,983 238,921,009.67 1,102,067 16,749,018.31    
1905 36,832 53,722,463 401,916,214.78 2,163,098 42,503,246.57    
1910 51,791 77,585,321 558,178,028.35 3,832,318 89,558,299.42    
1915 55,670 105,728,032 665,249,087.81 2,399,836 51,662,120.65    
1920 54,395 149,091,944 1,342,267,597.43  1,250,890 23,392,287.46    
1921 54,183  144,809,855  1,313,092,591.08 876,541  16,675,752.16    

The Post-office of General Concern
There is no governmental activity that comes so uniformly into intimate daily contact with different classes of this country’s inhabitants, nor one the functioning of which touches practically the country’s entire population, as does the United States postal system. Mr. Daniel G. Roper, in a volume highly regarded by postal executives, entitled “The United States Post-Office,” called the postal service “the mightiest instrument of human democracy.” This system, as we know it to-day, represents the growth, development, and improvement of over a century and a third. In the last seventy-five years this growth has been particularly marked; the total number of pieces of all kinds of mail matter handled in 1847, for instance, was 124,173,480; in 1913 it was estimated that 18,567,445,160 pieces were handled, and to-day about 1,500,000,000 letters are handled every hour in the postal service. In 1790 the gross postal revenues were $38,000 in round numbers and the expenditures $32,000. In 1840 the revenues were $4,543,500 and expenditures $4,718,200. In 1890 the revenues were $60,880,000 and the expenditures $66,260,000. In 1912 the revenues were $247,000,000 and the expenditures $248,500,000.
The revenue of the postal service for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1921, including fees from money-orders and profits from postal-savings business, amounted to $463,491,274.70, an increase of $26,341,062.37 over the receipts for the preceding fiscal year, which were $437,150,212.33. The rate of increase in receipts for 1921 over 1920 was 6.02 per cent., as compared with an increase in 1920 over 1919 of 19.81 per cent.
The audited expenditures for the year were $620,993,673.65, an increase over the preceding year of $166,671,064.44, the rate of increase being 36.68 per cent. The audited expenditures for the fiscal year were therefore in excess of the revenues in the sum of $157,502,398.95, to which should be added losses of postal funds, by fire, burglary, and other causes, amounting to $15,289.16, making a total audited deficiency in postal revenues of $157,517,688.11. The material increase in the deficiency over that for 1920 was due to large increases of expenditures made necessary by reason of the re-classification act allowing increased compensation estimated at $41,855,000 to postal employees, and to increased allowances of more than $30,000,000 for railroad mail transportation resulting from orders of the Interstate Commerce Commission under authority of Congress.
The revenues of this department are accounted for to the Treasury of the United States and the postmaster-general submits to Congress itemized estimates of amounts necessary under different classifications; Congress, in turn, makes appropriations as it deems advisable.
In 1790 there were a total of 118 officers, postmasters, and employees of all kinds in the postal service. Postmaster-General Work to-day directs the activities of nearly 326,000 officers and employees. The number of post-offices in the United States in 1790 was seventy-five; in 1840 the number had increased to 13,468; in 1890 it was 62,401; and on January 1, 1922, there were 52,050. The greatest number of post-offices in existence at one time was 76,945, in 1901, but the extension of rural delivery since its establishment in 1896 has caused, and will probably continue to cause, a gradual decrease in the number of smaller post-offices.
The Post-office in Colonial Times
The first Colonial postmaster, Richard Fairbanks, conducted an office in a house in Boston in 1639 to receive letters from ships. In 1672 Governor Lovelace of New York arranged for a monthly post between New York and Boston, which appears to have been the first post-route officially established in America. Much of this route was through wilderness, and the postman blazed the trees on his way so that travelers might follow his path. This route, however, was soon abandoned.
In 1673 the Massachusetts General Court provided for certain payments to post messengers, although the first successful postal system established in any of the Colonies was that of William Penn, who, in 1683, appointed Henry Waldy to keep a post, supply passengers with horses, etc. In the following year Governor Dungan of New York revived the route that had been established by Governor Lovelace, and, in addition, he proposed post-offices along the Atlantic coast. In 1687 a post was started between certain points in Connecticut. The real beginning of postal service in America seems to date from February 17, 1691, when William and Mary granted to Thomas Neale authority to conduct offices for the receipt and despatch of letters. From that time until 1721 the postal system seems to have been under the direction of Andrew Hamilton and his associates. In the latter year John Lloyd was appointed postmaster-general, to be succeeded in 1730 by Alexander Spotsward. Head Lynch was postmaster-general from 1739 to 1743, and Elliott Berger from 1743 to 1753.
In July, 1775, the Continental Congress established its post-office with Benjamin Franklin as its first postmaster-general. Mr. Franklin had been appointed postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737. Samuel Osgood, of Massachusetts, however, was the first postmaster-general under the Constitution and Washington’s administration. From Samuel Osgood to Hubert Work there have been forty-five postmasters-general, that official becoming a member of the President’s cabinet in 1829.
Fast Mails of Pioneer Days
Post-riders and stage-coaches were the earliest means of transporting the mails, to be followed by steamboats, railway trains, and, in time, by airplanes.
In considering our modern mailing methods, no feature of the development of our postal system is more striking than the improvement that has been made in methods of mail transportation.
Up to a few decades ago, pony express riders sped across the western part of our country, and back, carrying the “fast mail” of the days when Indians and road-agents constituted a continual source of annoyance and danger to stage-coach passengers and drivers, and made the transportation of valuables extremely hazardous. The coaches carried baggage, express, and “slow mail,” as well as passengers, while the “fast mail” was handled exclusively by pony riders.
The inimitable Mark Twain has given us a great word-picture of these pony express riders, from which we quote the following:
In a little while all interest was taken up in stretching our necks and watching for the “pony rider”—the fleet messenger who sped across the continent from St. Joe to Sacramento, carrying letters nineteen hundred miles in eight days! Think of that for perishable horse and human flesh and blood to do! The pony rider was usually a little bit of a man, brimful of spirit and endurance. No matter what time of the day or night his watch came on, and no matter whether it was winter or summer, raining, snowing, hailing, or sleeting, or whether his “beat” was a level straight road or a crazy trail over mountain crags and precipices, or whether it led through peaceful regions or regions that swarmed with hostile Indians, he must be always ready to leap into the saddle and be off like the wind! There was no idling time for a pony rider on duty. He rode fifty miles without stopping, by daylight, moonlight, starlight, or through the blackness of darkness—just as it happened. He rode a splendid horse that was born for a racer and fed and lodged like a gentleman; kept him at his utmost speed for ten miles, and t

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