Origins of the U.S. Postal Service

Thinking about taking a trip down to the Post Office conjures up images of long lines and regulated service in an age of instantaneous communication through text messaging and the internet.  But looking back on the history of Postal Service, the transportation of information was a privilege of the utmost relevance.

The importance of long distance communication was recognized by the early North American colonies and several programs were initiated but none took into account the vastness of all the colonies.  With a limited scope and disjointed function, these independent services failed.

In 1691, Thomas Neale petitioned for a grant from the British Crown for the establishment of a North American Postal Service.  On February 17th of 1691, he heard his response from regents William and Mary, giving him the funds “to erect, settle and establish…an office or offices for receiving and dispatching letters and pacquets, and to receive, send and deliver the same under such rates and sums of money as the planters shall agree to give, and to hold and enjoy the same for the term of twenty-one years.”

PostRoad

Excited, Neale wasted no time in appointing Andrew Hamilton, New Jersey Governor as deputy postmaster with the first official service up and running by 1692.  Postage rates were standardized and a Post Office erected in each Virginia town.  When Neale’s patent expired in 1710, Parliament advanced the English postal system to support the colonies.  The head office was established in New York City.

All was fine and dandy with this system until the Revolutionary War which seated Philadelphia as the information hub of the new nation, collapsing the English postal service.  The postal service found necessity in the expedited transportation of news, laws, military and political intelligence.  Newspapers were distributed among the thirteen states as journalists began reaching more people at a lower cost.  Overthrowing the English based postal service, the United States postal Service was created on July 26th, 1775 by the decree of the Second Continental Congress.  It was initially led by Benjamin Franklin, previous colonial postmaster.

Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Photograph by Mike Peel

Seventeen years later The Post office Department was created in 1792 in order to establish Post Offices and Post roads by Constitutional authority.  Representative of core American values, the 1792 law guaranteed low-cost access to information while sanctifying personal correspondence and privacy.

As the country grew West, Post Offices began popping up across the land.  To most efficiently reach far away places, this new service operated on a hub and spoke system in which Washington was the hub.  By 1869, the USPS had gained so much leverage that it contained 27,000 local Post Offices and began utilizing railroad mail cars.  The USPS influenced national expansion crucially.  Supplying a quick and affordable way to communicate increased migration to the West, encouraging trade and business ventures while maintaining political relevance.  Aside from practicality, the easy spread of information bolstered a sense of nationalism in a blooming country, providing a necessary infrastructure in establishing the new frontier!

So next time you complain about a letter getting lost in the mail or not having mail service on Sundays, remember the long history of the Post in this county and the value of sharing information in America!

Collecting American Flags

 

In April 2014, an American Revolutionary War flag went up for auction in New York City. The flag is the earliest known surviving flag representing the 13 original colonies and sold for millions of dollars.

Early American flags tend to sell for high prices at auction. Flags often wear away or deteriorate over time, so finding flags in good condition is rare.

In wars of the 18th century, soldiers strove to capture the opposing unit’s flag as a victory trophy. It makes sense, then, that flags have often been prized possessions through the years.

Of course, American flags have evolved over time. The star-spangled flag of all 50 states is the result of a long process of designed and redesigned flags.

The first American flag combined the British flag with red and white stripes.

But in 1777, America decided it wanted its own flag and Congress passed the Flag Resolution that said, “Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.”

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A 1777 battle during the Siege of Fort Stanwix saw the first flight of the official U.S. flag. Soldiers used their shirts to make white stripes, red petticoats of officers’ wives formed the red stripes, and the blue came from Captain Abraham Swartwout’s blue coat.

The Betsy Ross flag, a flag with stars forming a circle rumored to be the first flag created by Betsy Ross herself, may only be a story of legend. But the flag with the thirteen original colonies in a circle is still a distinct early design, albeit one not designed by Betsy Ross.

In 1787, Captain Robert Gray sailed around the world displaying the flag on his boat for all the world to see.

A variety of star formations formed on the flag through the years, thanks to the increasing number of states of this growing country.

Today, you can easily find replicas of American flags, but finding the originals becomes a little more difficult. Aside from the country’s official flags through the years, other flags formed from U.S. battles and ships.

You can learn more about rare flags at this link.

Do you collect flags? Which flag throughout history is your favorite?