United States Postal Service

Template:Infobox Company The United States Postal Service (USPS) is the United States government organization responsible for providing postal service in the United States, and it is generally referred to as "the post office." It was created on July 26, 1775, by decree of the Second Continental Congress, and exists today under the clause in the United States Constitution empowering Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads." Originally a cabinet department, it was later converted to a government-owned corporation. Competition from e-mail and private operations such as United Parcel Service, FedEx, and DHL has forced USPS to adjust its business strategy and to modernize its products and services. The Department of Defense and the USPS jointly operate a postal system to deliver mail for the military known as the Army/Air Force Post Office and the Fleet Post Office.


Governance and organization

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Postal depository box
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A USPS truck in San Francisco
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A U.S. Post Office sign

The USPS is headed by a Board of Governors or Governor of the United States Postal Service, (appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate), who serve as its corporate board of directors. They set policy and procedure and postal rates for services rendered. The United States Postmaster General, formerly appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate, but now appointed by the board of governors, serves as Chief Operating Officer and oversees the day to day activities of the service.

Although they are governmental in nature, they have for the last few years insisted on using usps.com as their primary Internet address, with a .com top level domain implying that they are a commercial entity. The more-appropriate usps.gov address merely redirects to the .com version. However, some links on the website, like to the international rate calculator, link back to .gov, and the .com address does not work.

The USPS is a government monopoly, which means that it possesses the exclusive right under federal law to place envelopes and packages into standardized mailboxes marked "U.S. Mail." In contrast, private carriers must give packages directly to the recipient, leave them in the open near the recipient's front door, or place them in a special box dedicated solely to that carrier (a technique commonly used by small courier and messenger services).

In the 1840's Lysander Spooner started the commercially successful American Letter Mail Company which competed with the United States Post Office by providing lower rates. He was successfully challenged with legal measures by the U.S. government and exhausted his resources trying to defend what he believed to be his right to compete.

The USPS is currently the only mail carrier that is allowed to deliver letters to private mailboxes in the United States; the same price is charged no matter the location. As a result, some say that those who mail letters to easy to reach destinations are effectively subsidizing those who are mailing letters to more difficult to reach destinations, and that exposure to market forces in a competitive environment might resolve this inefficiency. Also, competitive forces that would arise by allowing private carriers to utilize mailboxes might further reduce prices.

First-Class Mail, starting at 37 cents (USD), is currently the least expensive and most universal method to send a letter in the U.S. However, it remains to be seen whether lower prices can again be achieved by allowing private carriers to utilize private home and business mailboxes.

The USPS also has the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with an estimated 170,000 vehicles, the majority of which are the easily identified "mail trucks," as shown in the picture to the right. Some rural mail carriers use personal vehicles.


Although its customer service centers are called post offices in regular speech, the USPS usually designates them as "stations." There is a distinction in that certain temporary stations set up for applying pictorial cancellations are not post offices, but all post offices are stations.

Addressing envelopes

For any letter addressed within the United States, the USPS requires two things on the envelope.

The first is the address of the recipient, to be placed in the center of the envelope. It is sometimes required to put the name of the addressee above the address; regardless, it is always a good idea to do so. Another optional addition to the address is a ZIP+4 code.

The second is some means of indicating that postage has been paid, usually a stamp, but perhaps a meter label, or in certain cases such as members of Congress a signature or other writing indicating that the sender has franking privileges. First-class mail costs 37 upwards, depending on the weight of the letter and the class, and the indicia is supposed to be placed in the upper-right corner. A third, and optional (but strongly suggested) addition is a return address. This is the address you wish the recipient to respond to, and, if necessary, the letter to be returned to if delivery fails. It is placed in the upper-left corner.

The formatting of the address is as follows
Line 1: Name of recipient
Line 2: Street address or P.O. Box
Line 3: City ISO 3166-2:US code and ZIP Code
Mr. John Doe
1111 Such-and-such ST
New York NY 10036

The USPS maintains a list of proper abbreviations at this page (http://www.usps.com/ncsc/lookups/usps_abbreviations.htm)

The formatting of a return address is identical. A common myth is that a comma is required after the city name, but the examples in official USPS publications do not have such punctuation. The Post Office recommends use of all upper case block letters using the appropriate formats and abbreviations to ease automated address reading and speed processing, particularly for handwritten addresses; if the address is unusually formatted or illegible enough, it will require hand-processing, delaying that particular item.

Mail sorting

Currently, processing of standard sized envelopes and cards is highly automated, including reading of handwritten addresses. Mail is removed from the plastic tub in which it is transported and inserted into the Advanced Facer-Canceler System by hand, which is the last individual human contact most of the mail has until it is sorted by the carrier at the destination postal station.

In contrast to the previous system which merely canceled and postmarked the upper right corner of the envelope, thereby missing any stamps which were inappropriately placed, the Advanced Facer-Canceler is sophisticated enough to locate the stamp anywhere on the envelope and cancel it and apply a postmark. Using the location of the stamp as one clue among others, it identifies the orientation of each item, and rotates them when necessary so that all the items are similarly oriented. The mail is then output by the machine into three categories; mail already having bar-coded addresses (such as many preaddressed reply envelopes and cards), mail with typed addresses, and mail with handwritten addresses.

Mail with typed addresses goes to a Multiline Optical Character Reader (MLOCR) which reads the ZIP Code and address information and prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelope. Mail with handwritten addresses goes to the Remote Bar Coding System, a highly advanced scanning system with a state of the art neural net processor which is highly effective at correctly reading almost all addresses, no matter how badly written. It also corrects spelling errors and, where there is an error, omission, or conflict in the written address, identifies the most likely correct address. When it has decided on a correct address, it prints the appropriate bar code onto the envelopes, similarly to the MLOCR system.

Mail with addresses which cannot be resolved by the automated system are separated for human intervention. If a local postal worker can read the address, the appropriate bar code is printed onto the item. If not, the item is sent to one of three Mail Recovery Centers in the United States (formerly known as Dead Letter Offices, originated by Benjamin Franklin in the 1770s) where it receives more intense scrutiny, including being opened to determine if any of the contents are a clue. If no valid address can be determined, the items are held for 90 days in case of inquiry by the customer; and if they are not claimed then they are destroyed.

Once the mail is bar coded, it is automatically sorted into destination postal stations. Items for local delivery are retained in the postal station while other items are trucked to either the appropriate station if it is within approximately 200 miles, or the airport for transport to more distant destinations. Mail is flown, usually as baggage on commercial airlines, to the airport nearest the destination station, then at a nearby processing center the mail is once again read by a Delivery Bar Code System which sorts the items into their local destinations, including grouping them by individual mail carrier.

Major products and services

First Class Mail

The normal mail service used by individuals and business sending a small amount of mail. One rate regardless of distance.

  • Letters: The cost to send a letter weighing up to 1 ounce (28 g) is 37 cents.
  • Each additional ounce is an additional 23 cents, up to 13 ounces.
  • Sending a postcard costs 23 cents.
  • Packages weighing up to 13 ounces (369 g) can be sent.
  • Best effort delivery including return service for undeliverable mail.
  • Forwarding service: With a change of address, mail coming to the old address will be sent to the new address for up to 12 months.
  • Available to anyone.
  • Recommendations (but no enforced rules) about mailpiece quality and addressing.
  • Mail is picked up at customer's house or place of business, or can be dropped in any public mail collection box.
  • Delivery to every address in the United States, except some small towns with no delivery to addresses within a quarter mile (400 m) of the post office.

Standard Mail

Used mainly for businesses.

  • Minimum 200 pieces per mailing
  • Must weigh less than 16 ounces (454 g)
  • No return service unless requested (an additional fee is charged for return service)
  • Not for personal correspondence, letters, bills, or statements
  • Annual fee

Bulk Mail

Used for businesses to send large quantities of mail.

  • Can be First Class or Standard Mail
  • Discounted rates
  • Permit required
  • Enforced rules about mailpiece quality and addressing.
  • May require additional work by the sender, such as pre-sorting by ZIP Code.
  • Mail must usually be brought to a postal facility.

Parcel Post

Used to send packages weighing up to 70 pounds (31.75 kg)

  • Rates based on distance, weight, and shape
  • Delivery to every address in the United States

Media Mail

Formerly known as "Library mail" or "Book Rate," Media Mail is used to send books, printed materials, sound recordings, videotapes, CD-ROMs, diskettes, and similar, but cannot contain advertising. Maximum weight is 70 pounds (31.75 kg).

  • Rates based on weight
  • Much cheaper than Parcel Post, but sometimes slower

Priority Mail

Priority Mail is an expedited mail service with a few additional features.

  • Average delivery time is 2-3 days (but this is NOT guaranteed, may take longer)
  • Flat rate envelopes and boxes available (one rate for whatever you put in the envelope)
  • Packages up to 70 pounds (31.75 kg).
  • Label can be printed online
  • Delivery to every address in the United States

Express Mail

Express Mail is the fastest mail service.

  • Typically overnight or second-day delivery
  • Flat rate envelope available
  • Packages up to 50 pounds (22.7 kg)
  • Delivery to most addresses in the United States
  • Guaranteed on-time delivery
  • Sunday and holiday delivery

Money orders

  • Provide a safe alternative to sending cash through the mail
  • Money orders are cashable only by the recipient, like a bank check

Global services

Airmail, Global Priority, Global Express, and Global Express Guaranteed Mail are offered to ship mail and packages to almost every country and territory on the globe.

Airline and rail division

The United States Postal Service does not directly own or operate any aircraft or trains. The mail and packages are flown on airlines with which they have a contractual agreement. The contracts change periodically. Depending on the contract, you may see aircraft painted with the USPS paint scheme. Contract airlines have included: Emery Worldwide, Ryan International, Federal Express, Rhoades Aviation, and Express 1 International. The Postal Service also contracts with the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, or Amtrak to carry some mail between certain cities such as Chicago, Illinois and Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Add-on services

Delivery confirmation

  • Confirms delivery of package
  • Detailed package tracking is not included, but information is sometimes available
  • Results available online or telephone
  • Only available with First Class Mail, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Media Mail, Parcel Post, and Bound Printed Matter)

Signature confirmation

  • Confirms delivery with signature
  • Recipient's signature is kept on file
  • Only available with First Class Mail, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Media Mail, Parcel Post, and Bound Printed Matter)


  • Provides package with insurance from loss or damage while in transit
  • Available for amounts up to $5,000
  • Covers material losses only minus depreciation

Certified Mail

  • Provides proof of mailing, and a delivery record
  • Available for First Class Mail and Priority Mail

Registered Mail

  • Provides mailing receipt, delivery record, and protection for valuables
  • Available for Priority Mail and First Class Mail

Collect On Delivery (C.O.D.)

  • Allows merchants to offer customers a chance to pay upon delivery
  • Insurance comes included with fee
  • Amount to be collected cannot exceed $1,000
  • Available for First-Class Mail, Express Mail, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Parcel Post, Bound Printed Matter, and Media Mail)

Postage stamps

All unused US postage stamps issued since 1861 are still valid as postage at their indicated value. Stamps with no value shown or denominated by a letter are also still valid at their purchase price.

Copyright and reproduction

All US postage stamps and other postage items that were released before 1978 are in the public domain. After this time they are copyright by the postal service under Title 17 of the United States Code. Written permission is required for use of copyrighted postage stamp images. [1] (http://www.usps.com/communications/organization/noncommlicensing.htm)

PC postage

In addition to using standard stamps, postage can now be printed from a personal computer using a system called Information Based Indicia. Authorized providers of PC Postage are:


For a number of years, the USPS has been head sponsor of a professional cycling team, bearing its name. The team features Lance Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France from 1999 to 2004. The sponsorship ended in 2004, after which the Discovery Channel stepped in as the main sponsor, with the team renamed Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

Employment in the USPS

The USPS employs more people than any other single company in the United States except Wal-Mart. It employed 790,000 personnel in 2003, divided into offices, processing centers, and actual post offices. USPS employees are divided into three major categories according to the work they engage in:

  • Letter Carriers, also referred to as mailmen or mail-carriers; are the public face of the USPS.
  • Mail handlers and processors often work at the evening and night to prepare mail and bulk goods for the carriers to deliver. Work is physically strenuous, especially for mail handlers; many mailbags loaded from and onto trucks weigh as much as 60 pounds (27 kg).
  • Clerks work in the post offices, handling customers' needs, receiving express mail, and selling stamps. DCO's (Data Conversion Operators), who type out and forward mail to their destinations.

Postal Inspection Service

The United States Postal Inspection Service is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the USA. It originated in 1772, when colonial Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin appointed a surveyor or special agent to regulate and audit the mails – four years before the Declaration of Independence.

As Franklin was Postmaster under the Continental Congress and was Washington’s first Postmaster, his system continued. By 1830, the special agents had grown to become the Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations.

USPIS investigates mail related crimes. This includes not only theft or the sending of illegal material, but also attacks on letter carriers. Since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the USPS has also investigated several cases where ricin, anthrax and other toxic substances were sent through the mail.

In addition to plain-clothes inspectors there is the uniformed Postal Security Force whose security police officers protect major postal facilities, escort high-value mail shipments, and perform other protective functions.

The Postal Inspection Service operates four forensic crime laboratories, including forensic scientists and technical specialists so that the service can be an entirely independent agency enforcing more than 200 federal postal laws.

Many of its duties were transferred to the USPS Office of the Inspector General. These duties tended to be in the internal fraud, waste and abuse categories.

Public reputation

In the early 1990s, there was a widely publicized wave of workplace shootings by disgruntled employees at USPS facilities. Thanks to sensationalistic media coverage, postal employees gained a mostly undeserved reputation among the general public as being mentally ill. This stereotype in turn has influenced American culture, as seen in the slang term "going postal" and the computer game Postal. Another example is the movie Men in Black II, where all of Tommy Lee Jones' co-workers at the post office turn out to be aliens.

The Setting the Record Straight (http://www.usps.com/communications/news/strs.htm) section of USPS.com features letters to newspaper editors, television producers, and other media representatives which USPS has sent in response to criticisms of the Postal Service and to uses of the term "going postal."

See also

External links

fr:United States Postal Service no:United States Postal Service


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