1792 Two Hundred Years Ago

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There were barely one hundred post offices and no more than seven thousand miles of post roads for three million Americans when Congress passed the Post Office Act on February 20. The service it established was no bargain, and delivery—there was no service west of Pittsburgh and Albany and almost none south of Virginia…was a near-miracle. Rates were based on distance and the length of the letter: six cents to send one page thirty miles; a steep twenty-five cents to send it four hundred and fifty miles or farther. Delivery below Virginia slowed to once a week during the cold months. The act commanded that the Post Office support itself and that a greater network of post roads be established. In fact, between 1792 and 1799 more than nine thousand miles were added, bringing neglected parts of Pennsylvania, Vermont, Ohio, and Kentucky into the fold.

In the 1790s letter carriers, many of them women, took two cents in excess of postage for every missive that found its destination. There were no salaries in the early days.