Mail: A Brief History And How it Works

mailbox image
The earliest post offices were mail boxes at coffee houses and taverns.
The Seasons

Today you can send a message to a friend with a touch of a button by text, email or phone call. Two hundred years ago, though, people waited for weeks for a letter from family or friends. Getting a letter in the mail was an exciting, momentous event.

Mailbox Image - Science for Kids All About Mail
All About Mail: The earliest post offices were mail boxes at coffee houses and taverns.

The earliest post offices were mail boxes at coffee houses and taverns. These mail boxes collected mail coming and going from Europe. People stopped at the coffee houses to pick up their mail. Later, each community assigned someone the task of postmaster. Benjamin Franklin served for many years as the postmaster for Philadelphia.

Early Mail Carriers Image
The earliest mail carriers went on foot, by horse, cycles or in carriages.

In July of 1775, members of the Second Continental Congress voted to appoint someone as postmaster General. This person would organize an efficient mail system. The postmaster General earned $1,000 per year and was responsible for hiring a secretary and other employees. Benjamin Franklin accepted the role of first postmaster.

Child Sent by Post Image
Before 1920, the U.S. Post Office was allowed to parcel send children by mail 🙂

Fun Facts about Mail for Kids

  • Abraham Lincoln and Harry Truman both served as postmaster. Charles Lindbergh, Bing Crosby and Rock Hudson were also postmasters.
  • In 1815, the cost to send a letter containing one sheet of paper across the country was .25, which was the same as $3.65 today. Now it costs less than .50 to do the same.
  • The earliest mail carriers went on foot, by horse or in carriages. Later, mail traveled by train or steamboat. Today, it goes mostly by plane or truck.
  • The U.S. Postal Service collects, sorts and delivers millions of letters every day.
  • Today, a letter moves from New York to San Francisco in less than seven hours. In 1900, it took 4 ½ days. In 1850, it took four to six weeks.
  • People began using zip codes in 1963.
Parcels by Plane Image
These days parcels and mails are delivered by trains, planes or trucks.

Mail Vocabulary

  1. Momentous: worth stopping for, exciting, big
  2. Tavern: a place that sells food and drinks
  3. Role: position or job
  4. Efficient: organized, smooth running

Learn More All About Mail: A Brief History and How It Works

Check out this video all about mail and postal service:

A video about how the US Postal Service works.

Mail Q&A

Question: Are there things that can’t be mailed?

Answer: The U.S. Postal Service has a long list of things that can’t be mailed, including alcohol, cigarettes, guns, medicines and children. Yes, in 1920, the U.S. Post Office announced that it was illegal to mail children.


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