Evolution of Postal Services

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Rapid evolution in postal services has made it possible to send messages more quickly and easily today. Let’s have a look at its journey from past to present in context Indian Post.

Postal services in the past

In this modern age, that is today, the postman delivers letters to every home. However, in the past, the privilege of sending the message to anyone (post) was enjoyed only by kings and emperors. They used runners, trained particularly for the purpose of delivering post, to carry messages to other rules and their commanders during times of war. Generally, a king or an emperor would have a message inscribed on a clay tile and send a runner to take it to another king or emperor.

However, there are ample historical evidence that suggests that the ancient Egyptians had developed a kind of postal system and so had the ancient Chinese. The early postal systems relied upon post houses which served the carriers of the message. It was Romans who, in the ancient world, created most highly developed and dependable system that could  deliver messages cover 270 kilometers in 24 hours.

Read Also: From e-Post to eIPO (Indian Postal Order)

Pigeons as carriers of messages

Today, when we wish to send our friend a message, we just send a letter. However, it is very interesting, even to imagine, that about 3000 years ago the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon used to exchange messages by using carrier pigeons. Those pigeons were specially trained particularly in finding their way back home when they were released. The Persians and the Egyptians first used carrier pigeons some 3000 years ago.

These carrier pigeons fulfilled many purposes during the war, flying through the sky with airplanes, being fitted with cameras to take the pictures of enemy positions. However, the most important role of pigeons were to serve as messengers.

The most famous of all the carrier pigeons probably was one named Cher Ami (two French words meaning ‘Dear Friend’) who flew 12 important missions to deliver messages. It is speculated that perhaps the most important message Cher Ami carried was the one that saved the lives of over 200 American soldiers, even though he was badly wounded by enemy fire.

The Post riders

Many a times we often give a letter to someone who is going abroad so that he can pass it on to our relative or friend who lives there. This is the same method that was used in earlier times when there were no postal services. This method of using travelers in delivering messages to other places grew, with the time, into a system called Postriders.

So after going through the evidence, we can say that post riders were a horse and rider postal delivery system that existed at various times in many places throughout the course of history. Postriders collected and delivered mail in the course of their route, meeting at scheduled places and scheduled times. At these scheduled places, letters and parcels were exchanged and forwarded to the next destination by the riders. In this way, messages could be passed to a considerable distance.

Read Also: The Universal Postal Union (UPU)

The Pony Express

It was a fast mail service that used to cross the North American continent from the Missouri River to the Pacific coast. Messages were carried on horse back to be rallied across the plains, deserts and mountains of the Western United States. Compared to its earlier postal services or delivery services the Pony Express was very fast.

However, when telegraph wires, in 1861, linked New York to San Francisco, the Pony Expressed went out of business. But the tales of their courage and determination in delivering messages through rain and snow, sleet and ice, over the toughest mountain trails and roughest desert have become legendary.

Mechanization of Postal Services

It was between World War I and II many postal systems introduced in their postal services the conveyor belts to move mail between handling points. One of the most highly mechanized in the context of postal services was the lette- sorting office at Mount Pleasant in London.

Slowly and systematically, machines were introduced in preparing mail, and sorting small letters from the bigger ones. The machines to stamp the date on letters and put them into sacks were also came into existence.

In the modern, mechanized sorting system, that postal services enjoy, the workers (rather operators) sit at a key board while letters are mechanically passed before them. An estimated 50 to 60 letters per minute are processed by the operator. The letters are separated, based on the code entered by the operator into the machine, into different bins, and then removed, bundled and dispatched by the postal workers.

Problems of early postal services systems

As postal services grew, and the mail they handled increased volume-wise, many problems emerged. At the very beginning, the cost of transport was high, and it was near impossible to calculate the exact cost of sending letters to other countries.

Delivery was often quite slow and, therefore, resulted in people getting the services of other means to send their messages. Due to this, many illegal postal services sprung up, causing heavy losses to official postal services.

Slowly but steadily, these problems were controlled and overcome. Uncertainties in the context of the problem who would pay the cost and regularize charges in availing postal services were done away with the introduction of the postage stamp by Henry Bishop. Another achievement for the system of postal services was that now unnecessary delays could be checked because the day and month were also printed on the stamps.

Today we have speed post (whet to say of ‘airmail’) that guarantees delivery in 24 hours to most places. We have journey a long way indeed from the days when it sometimes took weeks or even months for an urgent letter to reach the destination.

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