How Much Do You Know About the History of the U.S. Postal Service?


John Miller

6 Min Quiz

The first postal service in North America was mostly intended to help people send letters to _____.

The first postal service in North America was a tie to the motherland. When colonists arrived in North America, many of them wanted to communicate with family and friends back in Britain.


In 1691, the first official postal service was established. What was it called?

In 1691, Thomas Neale, a British politician and project manager, was granted the powers to establish the North American Postal Service. And so he formed the very first -- and very primitive -- postal service.


What was postal service like in the 17th century?

In the 1600s, the postal service was very fragmented, serving only very limited (highly populated) areas. People in rural areas had no postal service at all.


What was one of the first things Thomas Neale did when he formed the North American Postal Service?

Neale established some of the postal service's basics, such as postage rates. And he set about building offices in all of the colonies where people could pick up and drop off letters.


Thomas Neale never actually visited the U.S. He appointed which man to carry out postmaster duties in the colonies?

Neale appointed Andrew Hamilton, the colonial governor of New Jersey, to carry out duties as deputy postmaster general. He was later kicked out of his position because he wasn't English-born … and there was a revolution brewing.


In the 1600s, why didn't the postal service cater to colonists who wanted to send letters to other colonists?

In the 1600s, colonists didn't really have any need to send mail to other colonists. They really only wanted to communicate with family back in England.


When were U.S. postal stamps first created?

The USPS had been in operation for decades before the first stamps made the rounds in 1847. Since then, stamps have been issued in a mind-boggling array of designs.


In the 1600s, how long did it take for mail to move from the colonies to Britain?

There was no quick communication between the colonies and England in the 1600s. It took months -- sometimes many months -- for letters to travel across the Atlantic.


Before post offices were established, where was mail delivered in the colonies?

Because there were no post offices in the early days, the mail went to taverns, inns or other local establishments. That's where people conducted their postal business.


Benjamin Franklin was a postal supervisor in the mid-1700s. Why did the British terminate him from his job?

Franklin was an ouspoken proponent of rights for the colonies. British officials knew he was a rebel … so they took away his postal service duties.


Before he was fired as part of the British postal service, what innovation did Franklin bring to the colonial postal service?

Franklin created a standardized rate chart that fixed rates for mail. The chart calculated costs depending on distance and weight.


Who was the very first Postmaster General of the postal service?

In 1775, the Continental Congress appointed the esteemed Ben Franklin as Postmaster General of the colonial postal service. Franklin's presence gave the organization instant credibility.


How did Franklin speed up the mail delivery process?

Franklin drastically cut delivery times, sometimes by as much as 50%. He started teams who drove mail wagons both day and night … and quickly, mail delivery became much more efficient.


Ben Franklin was only postmaster general for about a year. Why?

Franklin was a superb postmaster general. But he was even more valuable as a diplomat -- he was ordered to France to try and convince the French to join the revolutionary cause of the colonies.


In 1789, when the Constitution was signed, there were about _____ post offices in the country.

When the U.S. unveiled its Constitution, there were just 75 post offices for the entire country. That number would quickly grow.


Which president signed the Postal Service Act, which established the United States Post Office Department?

In 1792, George Washington signed the Postal Service Act, which officially formed the United States Post Office Department.


How did Ben Franklin pinpoint inefficiencies in the postal service?

Franklin used due diligence and persistence to standardize postal service practices. He toured offices all over the country, spotlighting inefficiences and devising clever solutions.


Why did William Goddard found the Constitutional Post in the 1770s?

In the 1770s, the British Crown postal service refused to carry any materials that spoke of the revolutionary cause. Goddard's Constitutianal Post, however, brazenly carried all letters, no matter how critical of the Crown.


Before the Constitutional Post began, what happened to letters that were moved by Crown post?

The British Crown post was totally insecure. British officials often opened letters and used them as evidence of treason against the king.


How many postmasters later became U.S. president?

Two postmasters later ascended to the presidency. They were Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman.


True or false, was the famous Pony Express part of the USPS?

The Pony Express began in 1860 and delivered mail throughout parts of the Wild West. But the iconic serivce was not part of the USPS -- instead, it was operated by private entrepreneurs.


The Postal Inspection Service is _____.

The Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement division of the postal service. It handles issues with mail fraud, theft, trafficking and threats against postal workers.


In 1822, it took about how long for a letter to move between Washington D.C. and Nashville?

By 1822, mail delivery times were improving. It took just 11 days to move mail from D.C. to Nashville, a distance of more than 600 miles.


In the 1770s, why did newspaper printers compete to become postmaster?

In the late 18th century, newspaper printers wanted to be local postmasters, too. In doing so, they could mail their publications for free … while conveniently refusing to mail those of their competitors.


In the early 1800s, how did the postal service move much of its mail, particularly in the South and West?

In the 1800s, roads in the South and West were pretty terrible. Rivers, on the other hand, offered a convenient way to move mail from one place to another.


The postal service was instrumental in starting which industry?

In 1918, 15 years after the first manned flight, the postal service began offering airmail. With airmail, the aviation industry really took off.


In 1984, the USPS added how many digits to the standard five-digit ZIP code?

In '84, as America grew, ZIP codes for very high volume areas were insufficient for sorting. The USPS added four digits to help clarify exactly where specific packages needed to be delivered ... and people hated the new codes with a passion.


In 1899, the service conducted tests of motorized vehicles for mail delivery. The car completed a 22-mile mail route in 2.5 hours -- it took a horse-mounted rider how long to finish this route?

It was immediately evident that cars were the future of mail delivery. It took 6 hours, more than twice as long as the car, for a horse-mounted rider to complete the 22-mile route.


"Mail call" is an exciting time during which events?

During times of war (and in peacetime, too), soldiers eagerly await mail call, the part of the day when they learn if they've received any letters or packages. During long, violent deployments, mail call is an important morale booster.


These days, how many post offices are there in the U.S.?

Post offices are nearly ubiquitous throughout the United States. These days, there are more than 40,000 such offices throughout the land -- a number that would surely boggle the minds of the Founding Fathers.


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Image: Wendover Productions

About This Quiz

Long before email and junk mail, there was just … mail. Glorious, hardcopy, snail mail that communicated ideas, affection (and probably a thinly-veiled threat or two) via vast distances. Without the United States Postal Service, the country itself would’ve evolved in very different ways. In this quiz, what do you really know about the USPS? 

In the earliest colonial times, there was no established postal service. If you wanted to send a letter to a friend, you might pass it to an acquaintance who was traveling to that far-off area in hopes that he’d make good on his promise to deliver it. Later, a rough, disjointed system connected major cities and a few towns, but a lack of standardization made service undependable. 

The British Crown postal system later spread throughout the colonies. But as it turned out, the Crown post system was unreliable in its own right – and it offered zero privacy. Do you know why that might have been a problem during the days of the American Revolution?

In the 19th century, the postal service finally offered uniformity and a much higher degree of reliability, and the number of post offices grew exponentially. Since then, the USPS has evolved into a high-tech business that handles an incredible volume of letters and packages.

Grab your stamps and see if you can lick this quiz! We’ll find out how much you really know about the history of the USPS!

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