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How the Post Office Created America: A…

How the Post Office Created America: A History

by Winifred Gallagher

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It is easy to just accept postal service as part of the foundation of US infrastructure, grumble when waiting in line for service to pick up a package or mail something requiring more than sticking on a stamp and dropping in the outgoing box. Winifred Gallager's book takes one back to the formation of the service, from the role it initially played gluing 13 disparate colonies into a new country, explains how it facilitated expansion of the country to it's current form and finally outlines some of the challenges it faces today in the face of electronic communication and other competing interests. It was particularly interesting to learn how some of the services that we just accept as normal--such as letter delivery in urban areas, came into existence--and the obstacles they had to overcome to be established. I highly recommend this book, and am now looking at today's USPS with more respect, but also the realization that as a citizen, we need to pay more attention to the next phases of evolution. ( )
  tgeorge2348 | May 20, 2018 |
The vision I have of the USPS is very much based on the time period I have grown up during, and the events that have occurred during my lifetime. To me, the USPS is just a utility provided by the government to move junk mail, bills, and sometimes packages to my door. When I have needed to interact with postal workers or go to post offices, I'm always left with a feeling that this is a typical government facility: outdated, underfunded, with overworked employees who are just mailing it in every day... Please forgive the pun.

Gallagher has done an amazing job in this book of showing how incredibly important the post was in "creating America" as we know it today. In the early days when there were just various colonies scattered around, it was difficult if not impossible to have a sense of community with the rest of the republic. You didn't get news from other areas until so much time had passed, businesses weren't able to grow into new regions, and you just generally couldn't reliably communicate with people in other regions. The concept that really hit home for me was the vision Washington and Franklin had of an informed republic who could vote and debate intelligently with the latest news of the new country. Without a functioning post, there was no way this could happen, hence why they threw their power into creating it.

This book delves into more than the creation though, and brings us up to present time and all of the problems the internet has created for "snail-mail". Over the years Gallagher shows that the post had innovators wanting to push them into dominating technological advances (the telegraph, fax tech, email) but this was never realized for various reasons and each time it was to their detriment. Partially due to this, the USPS just feels like an outdated solution to an old world problem; a dinosaur waiting to fossilize. I wouldn't say this is Gallagher's outlook though. She has a lot of optimism for the future of the USPS and her ideas on the changes that could be made were interesting to read.

I have no idea what the future is going to bring for the USPS, but in the past it has been a positive source of change, enabling expansion and communication over this huge country of ours. If not for the vision of a few men, who knows where we would be today without it. Seriously, we might not be one country, just a collection of smaller ones that Europe. I would completely recommend this book if you are remotely interested in colonial and revolutionary history. It gave me an entirely new view of the post office and what they have been doing since the beginning of America.

Copy courtesy of PENGUIN GROUP The Penguin Press/Penguin Press, via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. ( )
  GoldenDarter | Sep 15, 2016 |
A light, but lively history of the postal service in America, from Colonial times when Ben Franklin ran things to now. Goes into the various crises that the Post Office has had in its history, along with the continual arguments on whether the Post Office should generate a profit...or is a public service that should be available to every American. It's clear which side the author supports, and they make a good case that the Post Office has been most successful when it expanded its service no matter the cost. And several industries, in what should be a familiar theme, rely on the public post to lower their operating costs. (FedEX and UPS in particular need the Post Office as a public utility.) Unfortunately, the Post Office as infrastructure was (and is) neglected by Washington, with predictable results. ( )
  BruceCoulson | Aug 30, 2016 |
Purchased as gift for my former postmaster mother, 30+ year USPS employee. A solid history of the service, at times devolves into 'here are some anecdotes' for a few chapters, but forgivable. Narrative is hard. ( )
  kcshankd | Aug 3, 2016 |
The much maligned US Postal Service is a $68.9B per year enterprise that handles 40% of the world's mail and charges the world's lowest rates. Despite it's /efficiency(and if you doubt that fact, try getting a package delivered in France), the American public persists in in thinking of it as a lumbering dinosaur that is obsolete in today's world of electronic communications. Those holding that view should read this book.

Winifred Gallagher traces the founding of the US postal service from colonial days to the present and shows how the institution was an integral prt of the growth and settlement of the country. In fact the post office was established before the Declaration of Independence was signed as the founders recognized the need for reliable communications between the colonies.

AFter independence was won, the post office was responsible for building roads for the mail to travel on. It also subsidized the railroads and early airline industry through it's contracts to carry the mail from one part of the country to another. It gave women and minorities meaningful employment opportunities before any other industry , and made the mail order business possible. At one point in the early 20th Century the US post office handled more mail than all the rest of the countries of the world combined!

Unfortunately, the service did not keep up with it's success, refusing to spend the necessary funds to modernize it's equipment and it's distribution methods until there was a massive system meltdown in the 1970's (what most people remember of the USPS even today). Congress has been the system's worst enemy saddling the service with unrealistic labor expenses and hampering the implementation of cost saving measures.

A the end of the book, the author shows how the postal service missed opportunity after opportunity to leverage the digital revolution to renewed success. And she outlines how the service could enhance the distribution of broadband services today to remain relevant to the country. It's hard to imagine any of her recommendations being implemented in today's political climate and that's too bad because the story of the post office is the story of a country that dared to do big things. It would be nice if we did so once again. ( )
  etxgardener | Jul 14, 2016 |
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Discover the surprising role of the postal service in our nation's political, social, economic, and physical development. The founders established the post office before they had even signed the Declaration of Independence, and for a very long time it represented the government for most citizens. The post became the catalyst of the nation's transportation grid, from the stagecoach lines to the airlines, and the lifeline of the great migration from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Gallagher traces its origins and leaders and describes its role in every major event in American history, from the Revolutionary War to the dawn of the Internet age.… (more)

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