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The definitive history of the US Postal Service, the least appreciated and analyzed of America's great institutions, and an examination of how this remarkable organization created America. The post office, Winifred Gallagher argues, has been not just a witness to but a foundational influence on much of the history of the United States of America, particularly for women and The definitive history of the US Postal Service, the least appreciated and analyzed of America's great institutions, and an examination of how this remarkable organization created America. The post office, Winifred Gallagher argues, has been not just a witness to but a foundational influence on much of the history of the United States of America, particularly for women and African-Americans, who participated in the nation's formation via the post office in pivotal ways. How the Post Office Created America tells this story, tracing the role of a unique institution and its leaders, such as Benjamin Franklin, the Crown's first postmaster general--a position that for a great deal of America's history belonged to the cabinet, and as such was politically important and influential. Taking in all the major events in American history, from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War to the advent of the Internet, Gallagher tells a vitally important story.  This fascinating and original work of history brings to life a uniquely American institution, one without which our democracy as we know it would not have been possible. Gallagher casts her eyes forward, arguing compellingly that now more than ever before, as we arrive at a fork in the road with the advent of the Internet, we need to ensure that the future of the postal service is not squandered.


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The definitive history of the US Postal Service, the least appreciated and analyzed of America's great institutions, and an examination of how this remarkable organization created America. The post office, Winifred Gallagher argues, has been not just a witness to but a foundational influence on much of the history of the United States of America, particularly for women and The definitive history of the US Postal Service, the least appreciated and analyzed of America's great institutions, and an examination of how this remarkable organization created America. The post office, Winifred Gallagher argues, has been not just a witness to but a foundational influence on much of the history of the United States of America, particularly for women and African-Americans, who participated in the nation's formation via the post office in pivotal ways. How the Post Office Created America tells this story, tracing the role of a unique institution and its leaders, such as Benjamin Franklin, the Crown's first postmaster general--a position that for a great deal of America's history belonged to the cabinet, and as such was politically important and influential. Taking in all the major events in American history, from the Declaration of Independence to the Civil War to the advent of the Internet, Gallagher tells a vitally important story.  This fascinating and original work of history brings to life a uniquely American institution, one without which our democracy as we know it would not have been possible. Gallagher casts her eyes forward, arguing compellingly that now more than ever before, as we arrive at a fork in the road with the advent of the Internet, we need to ensure that the future of the postal service is not squandered.

30 review for How the Post Office Created America: A History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Antigone

    While I do not believe the post office created America, it can't be denied that our postal service is one of the country's cornerstones. The founders established this institution in an effort to provide the populace with the means to communicate and inform - and in so doing created the requirement for roads and outposts, transportation hubs and, above all, a constant stream of connective innovations that would serve the needs of their ever-expanding nation. The railway system owes a great deal t While I do not believe the post office created America, it can't be denied that our postal service is one of the country's cornerstones. The founders established this institution in an effort to provide the populace with the means to communicate and inform - and in so doing created the requirement for roads and outposts, transportation hubs and, above all, a constant stream of connective innovations that would serve the needs of their ever-expanding nation. The railway system owes a great deal to the postal service. The airline industry owes a great deal to the postal service. And in this time of pandemic, when a trip to a polling place could cost you your life, our democracy will likely owe a great deal to the postal service. Winifred Gallagher, an author of several well-regarded books (most of which have to do with the experience of being human), has produced an exhaustively researched history of the United States Postal Service. There are facts here by the hundreds, and asides enough to nudge those frequently dry realities along... Though twenty-four-year-old Abraham Lincoln didn't own the general store in New Salem, Illinois, he was appointed its postmaster by Postmaster General William Barry and served from 1833 to 1836. Other than the valued benefit of access to lots of newspapers, his rewards were modest, amounting to $55.70 in 1835, but then, so were his duties, considering that the mail came to town only once a week. Lincoln obligingly delivered any letters not picked up in a timely fashion, carrying them in his hat. Pertinent to the present day, Gallagher explains that the office of Postmaster General has always been, since the department's founding, a presidential appointment offered as reward for past political support. This is not new or unique to Mr. Trump. If one is looking for a responsible party on the issue of the postal service's funding, functionality, and future, one must look squarely at Congress. The more astute among us will have noticed their congressional representatives doing a bit of a soft shoe around the matter at the moment. There are reasons for that, and this author shares them in a clear and helpful way. Lest you become too enchanted, I will warn that there are a great number of arid passages here that have the texture of a middle school textbook and are certain to promote the sort of woolgathering one remembers from that time. Still, if you plan on following the hearings on this topic, or sliding into a healthy debate? This is the postal history you're looking for. Hands down.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Andie

    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 teh founding of the US postal service from colonia 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 teh 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.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Mark Fallon

    The second history of the US Postal Service published in 2016. Gallagher presents a lot of interesting facts about how the expansion of the United States was tied to the existence of a centralized post that expanded to meet the needs of the country. While I agree with her premise, the writing style made this a less-than-enjoyable read for me.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    Gallagher is a great defender of the US postal system. Being bored for long stretches was my own fault - it's way more interesting than it might look and one can't be inspired by every turn in the "saga." Is this micro-history or macro? A little of both, in a sense. My grandpa would have loved this book. Gallagher is a great defender of the US postal system. Being bored for long stretches was my own fault - it's way more interesting than it might look and one can't be inspired by every turn in the "saga." Is this micro-history or macro? A little of both, in a sense. My grandpa would have loved this book.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peter Goodman

    “How the Post Office Created America,” by Winifred Gallagher (Penguin, 2016). No subtitle, thank goodness. Gallagher tells a fascinating story to make an interesting argument: The United States developed as it has because of the postal service. There was virtually no communication among the colonies except by sea and river---no roads at all. The British had a postal service, and began to create one in the Colonies. Benjamin Franklin, as the brilliant postmaster general, began to expand the servi “How the Post Office Created America,” by Winifred Gallagher (Penguin, 2016). No subtitle, thank goodness. Gallagher tells a fascinating story to make an interesting argument: The United States developed as it has because of the postal service. There was virtually no communication among the colonies except by sea and river---no roads at all. The British had a postal service, and began to create one in the Colonies. Benjamin Franklin, as the brilliant postmaster general, began to expand the service. Its primary purpose was to distribute information---newspapers, not letters. The colonies communicated by newspaper, which was carried by the post. As the country grew, the Post Office (a Cabinet office) drove much of the growth. Post offices were established wherever there was a huddle of houses. The postal service kept getting better, more efficient, faster, easier to use. Of course, there was always the problem of revenue---the Post Office was never meant as a business, so it always needed some form of subsidy. But Americans understood that they were creating something new on this continent, and talked to one another about it by mail, encouraging ideas and inventions and education. Americans were tremendously literate, and by the Civil War were writing letters to one another constantly. There was a struggle in California as to whether it would be Union or Confederate, and the postmaster pulled off a trick (which I don’t remember) that kept the state part of the Union. The Pony Express was sort of a stunt that lasted a little more than a year, but of course became legendary. Urban post offices grew grander and grander, their architecture more and more magnificent, because the Post Office was the essence of government and government was bringing good things to people. Gallagher waxes ecstatic about the Post Offices built from the 1890s onward. The Farley Post Office in Manhattan, she says, is a huge, magnificent building. I have to go inside it at least once before it’s remade. The Post Office fought off competitors be providing better service, cheaper, faster. At one time it was possible for someone in the morning, by post, to invite a friend 40 miles away for dinner that evening, and have the friend arrive in time to eat. What has happened today, Gallagher says, is complicated: for one thing, the system works so well, is so cheap and efficient that we take it for granted. For another, the idea that it should be a business like any other, that it has no greater purpose, has dominated Congressional thinking for several decades. Postmasters have tried to keep up with the new technology, but are increasingly starved for funds. The Post Office tried a form of email before there was email---it was effective and popular, but the private competitors lobbied until it was killed. What we have now is a public-private system. FedEx, UPS need the Postal Service---it delivers packages to places they couldn’t afford to serve. The worst problem, of course, is that Congress is forcing the Postal Service (no longer the Post Office) to prepay its forecast pension funds, which immediately put the service into deficit. Gallagher argues that Americans need to remember how important postal service is to our lives, and to the health of the nation---even in the world of the internet. Quick read, fascinating information (she gives plenty of time to the importance of women and African Americans to the Post Office, and vice versa). http://www.literati.net/authors/winif...

  6. 5 out of 5

    Porter Broyles

    This was a fun little book. The book traces American History through the Post Office. Unlike many books that force a theme to overlay the subject, the history of the United States and the Post Office to mirror each other. Thus, this book works really well in presenting its story. It was a bit simplistic, but a fun jaunt down the history of America as seen through the postal service.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    An outstanding book. I love themed books that take a concept and travel with it through history. This book does exactly that. The USPS has such core ties to the development of the US as a government, as a nation, as an economy, as a society - I never looked at it that way before. Anyone with an interest in communications is going to love this book. I can't say enough good things about it. I've got a few dozen pages to go and the only thing that's stopping me from being sad about it is that the a An outstanding book. I love themed books that take a concept and travel with it through history. This book does exactly that. The USPS has such core ties to the development of the US as a government, as a nation, as an economy, as a society - I never looked at it that way before. Anyone with an interest in communications is going to love this book. I can't say enough good things about it. I've got a few dozen pages to go and the only thing that's stopping me from being sad about it is that the author has written several other books on different topics. I'll get to most of them!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    Absolutely fascinating. You cannot understand American democracy, innovation, or progress without understanding this crucial organization. Gallagher has done a fantastic job with this thorough and readable history.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    3.5 stars, rounding up because I genuinely believe this is incredibly important subject matter and history every American should know. Also there is fodder for at least five television shows and a host of movies from this history alone.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jo

    So much more interesting than the other book I listened to for NF book group theme : stamps. A history of the post office from colonial times right up to the 2010s, I got a good sense of how the institution developed within the complicated history of the states and the United States, how a lot of competing forces and interests have shaped its development, from westward expansion and immigration to railways and urbanization, booms and busts. The book ends with what it could be now, beyond what it So much more interesting than the other book I listened to for NF book group theme : stamps. A history of the post office from colonial times right up to the 2010s, I got a good sense of how the institution developed within the complicated history of the states and the United States, how a lot of competing forces and interests have shaped its development, from westward expansion and immigration to railways and urbanization, booms and busts. The book ends with what it could be now, beyond what it is, and why it got stuck in the way it did. It’s easy to take the mail for granted, as relatively simple and steady as it has been, but actually it’s history is fascinating and amazing. And the book shows that the post office could be more and better if the dominant political viewpoint changed. It’s not inevitable that “snail mail” is dead and I this book challenged some of the assumptions I had made (and I’m one of the small town post office customers who actually goes to the post office regularly and knows quite a bit about what kinds of challenges they’ve been dealing with, plus some of the solutions that other countries have instituted, like NZ’s alternate day deliveries - postal customers there only get mail about 3 days a week). Not a boring book! Thank goodness - after listening to the One Cent Magenta audiobook I didn’t have high hopes for this month’s theme. I didn’t listen to this with an intention to catch every detail. I might’ve gotten bogged down if I’d read this on paper.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Janis

    I’d been meaning to read this for a while, but the current trials of the USPS brought it to the top of my pile. This is an enlightening look at the impact the postal service had on early America, promoting literacy and creating a sense of national unity, and shows how the establishment of routes and post offices made expansion possible and palatable. The author touches on many topics, from the post’s mission, to labor, architecture, technology, and more, and offers a great reminder of how import I’d been meaning to read this for a while, but the current trials of the USPS brought it to the top of my pile. This is an enlightening look at the impact the postal service had on early America, promoting literacy and creating a sense of national unity, and shows how the establishment of routes and post offices made expansion possible and palatable. The author touches on many topics, from the post’s mission, to labor, architecture, technology, and more, and offers a great reminder of how important the postal service remains to us today - and what its future could hold.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Charles

    This was a very interesting book about the beginning of the Post Office, and how it was the cornerstone of information for the United States. The information provided through the Post Office encouraged the growth of the United States. The book was a great look at both the people and the delivery system for mail over the last 300 plus years, as well as what the Post Office will have to do to play a part in the future of America. Reading this book made me realize just how important the Post Office This was a very interesting book about the beginning of the Post Office, and how it was the cornerstone of information for the United States. The information provided through the Post Office encouraged the growth of the United States. The book was a great look at both the people and the delivery system for mail over the last 300 plus years, as well as what the Post Office will have to do to play a part in the future of America. Reading this book made me realize just how important the Post Office was, and still is, to our country. The author's book was well researched and a very entertaining read. I am a member of APS, and found the book to be very informative! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Holly Dowell

    In this book, Gallagher lays out the history of America’s postal service and its central role in the country’s formation, from westward expansion, to the development of the press and transportation industries, to trust in the concept of representative government. Well-researched and approachable, Gallagher shares a compelling case for the importance of the postal service as a creator and supporter of American culture. ⁣ ⁣ There was a lots of information about the postal service that floored me, li In this book, Gallagher lays out the history of America’s postal service and its central role in the country’s formation, from westward expansion, to the development of the press and transportation industries, to trust in the concept of representative government. Well-researched and approachable, Gallagher shares a compelling case for the importance of the postal service as a creator and supporter of American culture. ⁣ ⁣ There was a lots of information about the postal service that floored me, like the fact that it existed prior to the Declaration of Independence, subsidized newspapers from the get-go, used to be represented in the president’s cabinet (where the Postmaster General sat until the 1970s), and essentially single-handedly ushered in the age of aviation in the U.S. Also, there were memorable stories of the wild postmasters who sorted mail on moving trains, rode horses over mountain passes in snowstorms, and flew in fabric planes to deliver letters. ⁣ ⁣ My only criticism for this book is around Gallagher’s lack of acknowledgement of the murder and displacement of indigenous people and the resulting power imbalance as the U.S. expanded westward. Early post offices and settlements were often attack by encroached-upon tribes but the way she presented those clashes lacked some nuance for me. ⁣ ⁣ Ultimately, I was convinced my Gallagher’s thesis that the post office played an enormous role in the creation of America and its culture. Unfortunately, in transitioning from the Post Office Department to the USPS in the 70s, it took on an odd structure as a government-owned business rather than a service, which, in my opinion, was a grave mistake and antithetical to the post’s founding values. Time will tell what that impact will be long term and if a course correction can rescue the mail.⁣ ⁣ This book was published in 2016, but is more relevant today than ever. Given the way that the USPS is being intentionally sabotaged as we speak, I think it’s particularly important to recognize its vital history as a staple of U.S. culture, commerce, and democracy. ⁣

  14. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Wilson

    Loved this book. Heard a lot of razzmatazz going on about the post office and wanted to find out the full story. This book is well written and informative at the same time. Had a blast reading it.

  15. 5 out of 5

    K Marie

    An interesting history of the Post Office. Helped by the reading of Tavia Gilbert. Starts at the very beginning and ends just short of the Flat Rate innovation and Amazon boom. I learned more than I thought possible. And was more interested than I expected to be. Helped by the fact my brother has been a Letter Carrier for nearly 30 years. Worth reading, especially listening.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Todd Stockslager

    Review title: Delivering the American ideal door to door Gallagher has not written a history of the adventurous expansion of mail delivery to the remote reaches of the American landscape--the deep and steamy south, the remote and rocky coasts, the distant prairies, the gold-rush outposts of the far west, the far-flung islands of Hawaii or the icy tundra of Alaska. These would all be fascinating stories, and have been told elsewhere I am certain, but they would be essentially local histories full Review title: Delivering the American ideal door to door Gallagher has not written a history of the adventurous expansion of mail delivery to the remote reaches of the American landscape--the deep and steamy south, the remote and rocky coasts, the distant prairies, the gold-rush outposts of the far west, the far-flung islands of Hawaii or the icy tundra of Alaska. These would all be fascinating stories, and have been told elsewhere I am certain, but they would be essentially local histories full of memories and nostalgia for those pioneering days (Gallagher citations of several different local postal museums confirms my suspicion of the regional nature and appeal of those histories) . What Gallagher has written is the easily overlooked history of how the idea and the ideal of universal postal service as a public utility shaped and indeed created America itself. In the midst of revolutionary tumult in late 18th century America, and in the histories of the time since, it was easy to lose sight of the difficulty of communication between diverse and isolated Eastern seaboard colonies with primitive transportation technology lead by colonial administrations, businesses, and family ties which faced back east across the ocean, not north and south along the coast. It took forward thinking guerrilla revolutionaries to realize that establishing communications channels amongst and between these 13 colonies would be a major and necessary advantage over a military administration whose communication channel stretched thousands of miles and several weeks across the ocean. Gallagher documents this idea and its realization in the various colonial post office and communication plans. Then she documents the next radical change represented by the newly American post office: the mails should be affordable and accessible to every citizen to deliver personal letters, business communications, and newspapers without discrimination or censorship. In fact the mails could (and would be) used to encourage education, information, and free discussion amongst citizens and between citizens and their governments. From this foundational basis Gallagher goes on to write the history of the US Postal Service through many historical ups and downs as it realized this ideal down to today's daily door to door timely delivery of private and secure written communication that we take for granted. The history of the idea has taken different routes influenced by changing transportation technologies (water to horse to rail to air), business and economic climates, and political trends. How the Post has dealt with its position as a government agency fulfilling a legal mandate of universal deliver in a rapidly expanding but often thinly populated geographic area with the expectation of economic self-sufficiency or at least viability is a key thread in the history. The agency's at times turbulent history with transportation and labor is touched on here, but not explored in depth (see the notes and references) as Gallagher keeps the narrative moving quickly. How the Post Office responded to major American events like the Civil War (poignantly, door to door urban mail delivery debuted during the war in response to a postmaster's plea that the very public post office was not the proper place for parents and wives to receive bereavement notices), the railroad era, civil rights for women and African Americans, and new communication technologies like the telegraph and email (both lost opportunities) are all part of this history that Gallagher writes. She concludes with a summary of the three main views of the current and future Post Office and its role in fulfilling the mandate for universal service as a public utility, which I will abbreviate as expand it, disband it, or subcontract it. Gallagher documents the benefits, costs, and proponents of each approach, with a reminder that the US Postal Service today delivers 40% of the world's mail, at the lowest rates, with coveted daily "last-mile" access to every address in America. Whatever the future of the Postal Service, Gallagher has written us a valuable reminder of its fulfillment of the American ideal.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jock Mcclees

    Post office sound boring? If you like history it is not. The post office had a larger role in our history than most people realize. (I am listening to it and my only complaint is that while I love many of the people who read the books, in this case the woman's voice grates on me.) Postal services started out as a function of government to send government messages of messages of the ruling class. The United States changed that. Just before and during the revolution, the colonists were concerned th Post office sound boring? If you like history it is not. The post office had a larger role in our history than most people realize. (I am listening to it and my only complaint is that while I love many of the people who read the books, in this case the woman's voice grates on me.) Postal services started out as a function of government to send government messages of messages of the ruling class. The United States changed that. Just before and during the revolution, the colonists were concerned that their mail would be read by the British so they set up their own mail system. This made it possible to send information without it being intercepted and read. After the revolution it was considered important to maintain a Post to keep the colonies informed. When Washington became president he and others considered it a high priority despite the treasury being in bad shape. Benjamin Franklin was the first Postmaster General and helped improve the routes. However, the states were very leery of the Federal government having to much power because of the recent history with England. (For great insight into this read this wonderful book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789) The Post Office wanted to build post roads or improve roads but the states felt that they should do it because they didn't want to cede power to the Federal government. Most states didn't allocate money so they stayed bad. The US Post office was the internet of the era. Unlike Europe, it was available to anyone. It was also how information was disbursed. Surprisingly letters were a minor part of this. It was considered very important that information be shared. So newspapers could be shipped for a penny. A letter was 50 cents, a fortune in those days. When people sent letters they would cram as much onto one page as possible. The Post was primarily used for newspapers until 1850 when the price of postage dropped to 3 cents. Then letters exploded. Politicians could send letters for free and local newspapers often were partisan and pushed the politician. So as people moved west, politicians had post offices set up in the middle of nowhere. de Tocqueville was amazed at the US Post although not by the roads. By the early 1800s we had twice as many post offices as Britain and 5 times as many as France. Americans were very well informed, even in remote places. I forget how dynamic things were. In the early 1800s 50% of the people moved to new locations within a 10 year period. From 1840-50, the US population grew by 35%. The Post Office basically was the Federal government. It was by far the largest agency in the government. It also started hiring women and blacks when other places wouldn't. In the 1850s when postage was dropped to 3 cents, the number of letters exploded. All social classes started using the letters. Women started using the Post both to keep in touch and also to transmit information about the women's suffrage movement. They would frequently have some pages for personal news and other pages to share with others about the movement. At this time, the Victorian era was beginning and women at least in the upper classes had less freedom and their lives were more prescribed. People started worrying about penmanship and looks of a letter and the proper way to do things. Books were written on the right way to address certain people in certain situations. Then a woman invented the greeting card and that took off. People had to pay for letters when they arrived so unless it looked important many didn't bother to pay. Finally, postage stamps were invented around the same time the price dropped and so people accepted their mail because they didn't have to pay. Ironically, that also led to the very beginning of direct mail. Congress had a chance to buy the patent for telegraphy cheap from Samuel Morse but decided to turn it down. Wonder how that would have changed things. It is interesting that the Post was critical to spreading new technologies and helped westward expansion. By paying for mail to be carried on wagons, they supported the building of better wagons which helped with transportation in general since people and merchandise were also transported on the same wagons. The same was true as railways were formed. And then again it was critical to supporting the growth of the airline industry. The trains greatly speeded up mail delivery and there were special cars built where postal workers would sort letters as the train moved to its next destination. The people who did this were paid well and were the cream of the crop. They had to memorize many routes, keep track of ones that changed and on the fly figure out the best route to get a letter where it was going which may mean sending it backwards a bit to catch a different train. After the Civil War, with Reconstruction, blacks and other minorities started to get jobs. Women as well although it tended to be more in rural areas than in cities where competition was higher. Then when Woodrow Wilson became President, he was the first Southerner elected since the Civil War. He and his Postmaster General started segregating the federal government and the Post Office. They also implemented ID requirements as a way to identify blacks and get rid of them. (Sound familiar?) In addition, as Reconstruction was scaled back, whites in the South started intimidating blacks and scaring them enough to resign their positions as Postmasters and other jobs. For many years, the Post was one of the largest organizations in the world and considered one of the best run. There was also a decision in the mid 1800s that it would serve everyone which meant the price of postage was the same for everyone and that even rural communities would be served. Apparently the issues we have with the 1% today goes way back. In the early 1800s a minority of the population lived in cities and most of the people were farmers and small businessmen. Walmart wasn't the first company to put small businesses out of business. These same issues were a volatile mix in the mid to late 1800s as well. As the transportation improved, helped along by the Post, which also spread information, some companies started growing such as US Steel, Montgomery Ward, Sears Roebuck and others. They started driving small companies out of business. There also started to be a tension between the rural, underserved population and the people in the cities. The Post helped keep the people in the country informed and educated but there was still tension. The Post was considered a public service and it was OK to lose money. Its task in keeping people informed, spreading education and technology was more important. For most of its history it was on the front edge of technology and innovation and helped push new industries. It was also a cabinet post until the 1971. It was the largest government agency. Even now it is the largest employer in the US except for Walmart. I can't remember the date but at some point in the 1900s, the US Post Office delivered more mail than the post offices in the rest of the world combined. There was a 10 year period in the 60s and 70s where a first government report considered it a public service and 10 years later another government report felt it should be considered a business and should be profitable. Also at this time the government started increasing oversight and decreasing funding which created problems. With new technology like faxes and the internet the Post had several problems. One, they had few people who were familiar with the technology. Second, they didn't have many dynamic leaders like some had been in the past who could lead them to new technology. (In the past there was often opposition at first in the Post Office getting involved in new technologies and services. One was banking. The banks were against it, but they didn't want to deal with small accounts so most people kept money under mattresses, etc. By starting this service, it got more money in circulation and also trained people for when they had saved more and could have relations with banks. So they helped train a generation of customers for the banks.) Congress didn't give them the money and the time to have their trials succeed. There are always expenses and losses to start something and Congress would shut it down. Plus, various corporations lobbied against it. There was a nice part at the end where it gave ideas for how the Post could move into the future and still be relevant. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people and businesses who want to privatize it. I had no idea the post office was so involved in the development of the US. Well worth reading.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Killian

    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 d 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.

  19. 5 out of 5

    John Gorman

    I enjoyed this very much. I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in postal history. As philatelist and an enthusiast of the Independent Mails, I found the 5th chapter to be particularly interesting because it covered that critical moment in postal history. Gallagher does a pretty good job discussing the rising parvenus of the Independents Mails: Lysander Spooner and James Webster Hale. There's a lot of great nuggets peppered throughout the book, including Abe Lincoln's brief stint as I enjoyed this very much. I highly recommend it to anybody who is interested in postal history. As philatelist and an enthusiast of the Independent Mails, I found the 5th chapter to be particularly interesting because it covered that critical moment in postal history. Gallagher does a pretty good job discussing the rising parvenus of the Independents Mails: Lysander Spooner and James Webster Hale. There's a lot of great nuggets peppered throughout the book, including Abe Lincoln's brief stint as postmaster when he was a young man.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Robyn

    NOTE: I received a free copy of this title in exchange for a honest review. The text I'm reviewing is an advanced reading copy for Kindle. If you've never thought about the post office, you should! For if you are anything like this reader, you'll realize that you may not have given much thought to this government institution, other than buying the occasional stamp. But how did the post office arise? How does a new country of independent states form a single cross-country communication system? It' NOTE: I received a free copy of this title in exchange for a honest review. The text I'm reviewing is an advanced reading copy for Kindle. If you've never thought about the post office, you should! For if you are anything like this reader, you'll realize that you may not have given much thought to this government institution, other than buying the occasional stamp. But how did the post office arise? How does a new country of independent states form a single cross-country communication system? It's considering this question that you, again perhaps like me, will pause and ask, "Yeah, how did that happen?" Even spending a few moments contemplation on the question will lead one to the same conclusion as author Gallagher, namely that the history of the postal service necessarily parallels the history of the United States, both in terms of consolidating a geographically disparate set of people and growth and expansion. In fact, many of the greater issues of the new republic may be reflected in the postal service (e.g. federal oversight vs. state/local autonomy; public service vs. capitalist goals; freedom of speech vs. moralism). Gallagher does not excellent job of arguing that the history of the postal service is the history of the US, warts and all. This is not to say that the book doesn't have its weaknesses. Gallagher shoehorns in the postal service's role in perpetuating and subverting race and gender roles in historical America. I say "shoehorn" because those elements of the narrative do not fit neatly into the broader text. It's almost as if a first reviewer commented, "Why aren't you mentioning the role of women or minorities in the postal service?" Rather than tack such a discussion onto the end of a chronologically organized book, Gallagher sews it into her discussions of other aspects, such as the development of rural postal routes and private carriers. Omission of these cultural issues would have been obvious, but trying to put them in was equally clumsy. And the consistent mention of philately, that is the hobby of stamp collecting...yeah, I think we could have done without those paragraphs. Interesting? Sure. But they didn't really contribute to Gallagher's central argument. Overall, I enjoyed this historical account and am happy to have a better understanding of the oft-overlooked postal service. Worth the read for history buffs.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jim Kitzmiller

    I read a lot of history books. The problem with some of them, is that some authors may have opinions on the motives in between the facts. Or, on the other hand, they cannot help (through a possible perceived obligation to educate) emphasizing the social ambiguities of the times. This emphasis will makes an exaggeration of the the effect of social issues on events. It is not easy to make the sometimes dry facts of history come alive with the documented personal emotions and experiences that creat I read a lot of history books. The problem with some of them, is that some authors may have opinions on the motives in between the facts. Or, on the other hand, they cannot help (through a possible perceived obligation to educate) emphasizing the social ambiguities of the times. This emphasis will makes an exaggeration of the the effect of social issues on events. It is not easy to make the sometimes dry facts of history come alive with the documented personal emotions and experiences that create events, without speculation on motives and social issues on the behalf of the writer. But that is what makes a history book a thriller, a page turner, a work of art, and worth reading. How the Post Office Created America fails in this regard. Without the detail needed of the players lives, the historical characters come off flat, uninspiring, and infused with the author’s perceived motives. They are depicted at doing a, then b, then c in that order, because of 1, and 2, and 3, in that order. This the second book of my 65 years of reading that I couldn’t finish.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    Once the conduit of revolution, then a mainstay of communities both rural and urban, the post office has fallen on rough times as of late. Amid speculation that its services may be ended altogether, Winifried Gallagher offers a praiseful history of the US postal service, arguing that it helped the colonies establish independence and a national identity, preserved it as its citizens expanded west, and advanced the American dream by opening itself to women and ethnic minorities earlier than any ot Once the conduit of revolution, then a mainstay of communities both rural and urban, the post office has fallen on rough times as of late. Amid speculation that its services may be ended altogether, Winifried Gallagher offers a praiseful history of the US postal service, arguing that it helped the colonies establish independence and a national identity, preserved it as its citizens expanded west, and advanced the American dream by opening itself to women and ethnic minorities earlier than any other branch of the federal leviathan. How the Post Office Created America delivers a social history of the United States, centered on the post office but not limited to it, Gallagher also explores how the postal service influenced American culture, from encouraging a republic of letter-writers to the inclusion of Mr. McFeely of Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. (Kidding about that last one. In a grievious oversight, the author neglects to so much as mention the much-loved postman.) The story begins with Ben Franklin and Benjamin Rush, who believed that a good postal service was essential to the republican experiment. A republic needed informed citizens; informed citizens needed ready information. In those days that meant newspapers, and their circulation was promoted by heavily subsidized rates. How subsidized? In a day when a letter cost $0.50 to make it from New York to New Orleans, a newspaper could make the same trip for $0.015. In days before telegraphs, let alone telephones and the internet, the mail service was a vital part of everyday life. Alexis de Tocqueville marveled that even in the frontier, rural villages received mail at least once a week. Gallagher largely focused on the 19th century, that fascinating period in which the early republic transformed and filled an entire continent. In its beginnings, the postal service consisted of men on horseback, delivering saddlebags to general stores where the proprietor was also the local postmaster. A century later, the postal service had massive infrastructure and had literally redrawn the political map, as homes were given distinct addresses and later ZIP codes to allow for efficient and accurate delivery. Gallagher marks key points in the postal service's evolution, from the adoption of rural and city free delivery to the implementation of stamps. The postal service's pricing scheme inadvertently promoted both cheap paperbacks (they could be shipped as periodicals) and the first reams of junk mail. The early embrace of the railroad system created a golden age for the post office, and the trains themselves offered the unique ability to sort mail in the process of transportation. The postal service effectively subsidized the creation of American commercial aviation, as all of the early airlines relied on mail contracts to establish themselves to the point that they could build passenger service. As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, the post office became more professional in its organization; early administrations used it to reward their friends, giving away pork positions to their cronies, but the "spoils" system was largely dismantled in favor of a more meritocratic one, with post office employees required to sit for a civil service examination. As American society became more technologically complex, with sophisticated transportation and communication networks, the postal service's prominence faded. Early on, Americans debating the nature of the post office decided that while it wasn't a business that had to support itself solely on its income, it did need to support itself as much as possible while at the same time being supported enough by the public to keep pace with rural expansion. In the 20th century, with the country fully developed and competing networks now in existence, the debate over its future and nature resurfaced. The hybrid public-private elements of the office created conflicts of interest: if the institution was expected to support itself like a business, it was only fair that it be allowed the same freedom of action as other businesses, like expanding its services. At the same time, it was hardly proper for a publicly-funded entity to go into competition against private citizens by offering commercial photocopying and banking. Gallagher notes that the post office has been increasingly weakened by recession and constrained by Congress , to the point that it seems to be headed for insolvency. She urges readers to take stock of the post office's long, pivotal role in American history and urge their local congresscritter to take action. While I strongly doubt the post office will disappear, business as usual certainly can't last for long. The volume of mail sent by Americans continues to fall by the year, especially lucrative first class mail. Parcel delivery is up, as the private shippers sometimes use the USPS as their last-leg for home deliveries, but that's only a small contribution to the bottom line. At any rate, How the Post Office Created America is a fun social history, albeit one written by someone who is not a historian but who seems to write pop-nonfiction. That's not a criticism -- I'm a generalist myself, and have to appreciate someone whose books cover attention, the post office, the power of place, houses, God, heredity, novelty, and purses. Related "Making of America"-esque books: The Victorian Internet: The Remarkable Story of the Telegraph, Tom Standage Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World, Jill Jonnes The Great Railroad Revolution, Christian Wolmar Related: Stagecoach: Wells Fargo and the American West, Phillip Fradkin. Wells Fargo established itself as a rival against the postal service, which struggled in a way to achieve fast service between California and the eastern US.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    While I enjoyed the history, the numerous errors were too much of a distraction. The most glaring one that made me go, "WTF?" out loud was when she referred to Raleigh, SOUTH Carolina. Last time I checked, Raleigh was in NORTH Carolina and also happens to be the state capital of NC. There was another place with a sentence with no verb, and many facts that were dubious... not exactly wrong, but not 100% correct, either. So read it for the cool history of the post and of the building of America, b While I enjoyed the history, the numerous errors were too much of a distraction. The most glaring one that made me go, "WTF?" out loud was when she referred to Raleigh, SOUTH Carolina. Last time I checked, Raleigh was in NORTH Carolina and also happens to be the state capital of NC. There was another place with a sentence with no verb, and many facts that were dubious... not exactly wrong, but not 100% correct, either. So read it for the cool history of the post and of the building of America, but be wary of the editing errors.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    Good popular history tying developments in American infrastructure and culture to the institutionalization of the post office--technological experiments with aircraft on mail routes, dissemination of political pamphlets, jobs first for the spoils system, then as rare opportunities for women and minorities as postmistresses/masters, as significant secure customers for railroads and airlines, and as the deliverers of mail-ordered goods to the furthest corners of an expanding America.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Paul T

    Not recommended for persons younger than forty! But if you already know the grand arc of American history this series of chapters will be a joy to read.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Dave Courtney

    Lot's of information here. Some might find the writing itself a bit sluggish, but there is little question that author Winifred Gallagher captures the spirit of a lost age, and perhaps small glimmers of a hopeful future. Most notable to the book's title, Gallagher gives great effort to helping us to see the relationship of the Post Office to the creation of the America, and chapter after chapter offers much in the way of fascinating facts and stories that outline just how it helped foster the fo Lot's of information here. Some might find the writing itself a bit sluggish, but there is little question that author Winifred Gallagher captures the spirit of a lost age, and perhaps small glimmers of a hopeful future. Most notable to the book's title, Gallagher gives great effort to helping us to see the relationship of the Post Office to the creation of the America, and chapter after chapter offers much in the way of fascinating facts and stories that outline just how it helped foster the formation of America's roads, railroads, and airports, along with the national private/public debate. The postal service, in a very real way, connected the Country and allowed expansion to happen by anchoring it in a central, American image- the Postal Service. I knew the importance of the USPO, but I did not know how important it was in allowing Western expansion to feel it was a part of this growing Country. It became the centralized symbol of a growing patriotism, and allowed the developing government access and connection to the sprawling population. Also interesting is the role of the Post Office in championing the rights of women and African Americans, and similar to what we saw from Nasa, used its immense visibility to champion equal opportunity. Interesting piece on the place of the Postal Office in the 1960s to this end. The book does end with a brief addition that focuses on the future. If the book up to this point has been challenging our modern notions of seeing the Postal Service as an outdated "dinosaur" (and hopefully giving it some due respect), her hopefulness for the future is a bit more tempered. There is no getting around the later chapters which outline the Postal Service's failure to adapt, even to more minor progressions than it faces today with the online, web driven economy. So it is a stretch to think that the Postal Service, especially in a still evident Public/Private rift, will make the choice to adapt. But it certainly can, and as opportunities have been there in the past, so they represent themselves still today. Which is why a book like this is important, I guess. Moving forward I think we all would do well not to simply discard the things we see as irrelevant. We tend to take things for granted, but what Gallagher helps show, understanding how we got to where we are today is step 1 in recognizing the things that are still important for moving forward. And I think there is a good argument for taking more of an active role, whether on the North or South side of the border, in supporting this nation building and nation identifying public service.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Williams

    Author Winifred Gallagher produced a superb manuscript describing the history of the world’s information and communication superpower, the United States Postal Service. She will take you on travels across the country giving the reader an opportunity to empathize with the growth of Post Offices through the early days of binding a young country together. Find out the impacts the founding fathers had on mail development, the battles regarding high postage fees, low letter volume, mail theft, various Author Winifred Gallagher produced a superb manuscript describing the history of the world’s information and communication superpower, the United States Postal Service. She will take you on travels across the country giving the reader an opportunity to empathize with the growth of Post Offices through the early days of binding a young country together. Find out the impacts the founding fathers had on mail development, the battles regarding high postage fees, low letter volume, mail theft, various forms of newly developed transportation, and a widely dispersed population. For those employees that work in a Processing and Distribution Center: check out the “hub and spoke” circulation system, and job descriptions from the beginning of time requiring persons of integrity, sound health, firmness, perseverance, high ambition, and pride of character. For Letter Carriers: If you think you have obstacles to deal with in the present, the author will educate you that those who have gone before you had similar or worse: break times, on-the-job injuries, encounters with aggressive wild animals, tribe attacks, and many other distractions on the way to delivery. Would you believe, Wells Fargo and other carriers offered limited local post-rider services in the rugged west? Yep, they did. In fact Wells Fargo carried so much mail, that they installed their own mailbox next to the gov’t box. Find out what color they used, and what happened in that situation, only by reading this manuscript. You will be shocked to find out how the powerful mule became the Democratic Party’s symbol. Find out about America’s golden age of letter writing, the birth of Valentine, Christmas, other occasion greeting cards, and the long history of the study of stamps and other postal materials. Read about dissatisfied Americans, deep financial troubles, and political consequences that are as old as the Post Office itself. The author will bring you up to speed about all things postal and beam you into the 21st century. As the 35th Postmaster General John Wanamaker said, “The Postal Service continues to be the visible form of the Federal Government in every community, and to every citizen. Its hand is the only one that touches the local life, the social interests, and business concerns of every neighborhood.” To all the postal workers on the front lines and behind the scenes: If you want to be an engagement, or brand ambassador, you must read. Sorry, there’s no better way around it. Get this very potent manuscript right away, and keep it in your professional development library TODAY!

  28. 5 out of 5

    Joel Wakefield

    Great book that sees the broad, far-reaching effects of the development of the public post in the United States. The author makes a pretty strong argument that by facilitating the free flow of ideas early in the history of the country the Post allowed the wide-spread dissemination of thought between the colonies and therefore the development of a people able to support a revolution and ultimately a democracy. This was followed by the Post's public support of roads and basic transportation infras Great book that sees the broad, far-reaching effects of the development of the public post in the United States. The author makes a pretty strong argument that by facilitating the free flow of ideas early in the history of the country the Post allowed the wide-spread dissemination of thought between the colonies and therefore the development of a people able to support a revolution and ultimately a democracy. This was followed by the Post's public support of roads and basic transportation infrastructure, then the subsidies that allowed the development of the railroads then air travel. I think she makes her development points well, and helped me really think about the Post Office more conceptually, rather than just as simply a way to move paper and parcels from one location to another. She also did a really nice job of making it clear that the Post Office system was not an inevitable development - it could have gone in a lot of different directions, and the current direction is not necessarily the only way to think about it in this day and age either. All the while she sprinkled in a lot of historical tidbits that gave the system some depth and humanity as well, which I thought was great. I think the later history was shortened a bit for some reason, for instance I wanted to hear more about the crisis in Chicago in the 1960s and how they dealt with it then dug out of it. And the "where will the post office go from here" section could also have been expanded on. Maybe there aren't all that many things to say about post office theory beyond what she raised in the final chapter, but it does seem likely that there is more to the discussion of where it might go and the practical and political arguments on the various sides of it than she got into in the final few pages of the book. As a specific for instance, while it gets a mention in a brief paragraph in the last 2 pages, I have to think that the advent of Amazon as an online seller and the subsequent explosion in the delivery industry has to play a much more significant role in the vision of what the post office might look like right now and down the line. But for someone who likes quirky takes on history, this book did me well.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Julian Dunn

    One of the challenges with writing a book about an institution as old as the post office is that many nuances of its various endeavors, particularly at the beginning of its life, have been lost. This is generally true of all history books, and it falls to the writer to apply their talents towards animating past events and characters. Typically -- though not always -- the writer also chooses to narrate events in chronological order, so that the reader doesn't have to remember whether, for example One of the challenges with writing a book about an institution as old as the post office is that many nuances of its various endeavors, particularly at the beginning of its life, have been lost. This is generally true of all history books, and it falls to the writer to apply their talents towards animating past events and characters. Typically -- though not always -- the writer also chooses to narrate events in chronological order, so that the reader doesn't have to remember whether, for example, Woodward was the postmaster-general before or after the Civil War -- or was that Wanamaker? I knew it was some department-store magnate... you get my point. Sadly, Gallagher breaks the chronological storytelling rule, and, coupled with her mechanical, uninspiring prose, somehow succeeds in making a dry topic even drier. (And this is coming from someone who is fascinated by government bureaucracies and technological ephemera, which is why I picked up the book in the first place.) Gallagher jumps around historical events of the 18th and 19th centuries and not in a way that made any sense to me. In the last few chapters, she finally settles down, but it's already the 20th century; too little, too late. Then at the end of the book, Gallagher makes a noble attempt to use the post as an example of the classic societal push-and-pull between private enterprise and public service with the first 75% of the book as supporting material, but her argument is weakened by the chaotic presentation of the historical narrative up until that point. What I do give her points for is completeness of research. There's no question that within this 220 page volume is contained as much of the definitive history of the post office as can be whittled down for consumption by laypersons. It's just presented in a very hamfisted fashion. Finally, I think Gallagher could have taken a stronger viewpoint about the post office's role in bringing America together. She states these facts, but fails to make her opinion known until the very end of the book, which is too late for it to have substantial impact.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Danielle

    A concise overview of one of the USA's oldest and most essential institutions. From walking to riding to coaches to rail to air, the post stayed abreast of the latest in transportation and logistics, keeping even the most remote citizens connected to a national network of ideas. Then the internet happened, and though we still rely on the post for "hard copy" and "last mile" delivery, we are somehow less and less willing to support it fiscally. Gallagher did a great job highlighting the enduring A concise overview of one of the USA's oldest and most essential institutions. From walking to riding to coaches to rail to air, the post stayed abreast of the latest in transportation and logistics, keeping even the most remote citizens connected to a national network of ideas. Then the internet happened, and though we still rely on the post for "hard copy" and "last mile" delivery, we are somehow less and less willing to support it fiscally. Gallagher did a great job highlighting the enduring importance of the post office's services. My favorite chapter was the afterword, where Gallagher offers suggestions on how the USPS might come fully into the 21st century. The most compelling idea, I think, was returning to the model of the post office as a gathering place. There is historical precedent for the post office as an outlet for a variety of local and federal services (savings banking for low-income workers, free internet access with a truly secure digital mailbox, extension of DMV services, etc) as well as a social hub (perhaps, she suggests, even with a Starbucks!), reestablishing a true civic fixture. Gallagher also highlights the value of federal employees going to each local address six days a week. Postal carriers could provide new services, such as check-ins with the elderly or data of local interest. Such expansions seem obvious and intuitive to me now, having spent time reviewing the post's historical and social impact, but it might not seem so apparent to others who haven't considered the enduring relevance of an institution - more accurately, the only institution - capable of performing these tasks. The solution to the USPS's many problems, it seems, isn't subsuming it entirely to privatization; the post has almost always been a union between the public and the private for the benefit of each. The post office is still the best at what it does, which is providing access to information and communication to all Americans for a universally low rate. It is important and necessary, and it's up to us to make it useful again in the digital age.

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