How the Post Office created America : a history

by Winifred Gallagher

Hardcover, 2016




New York : Penguin Press, 2016.


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.

User reviews

LibraryThing member etxgardener
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getting a package delivered in France), the American public persists in in thinking of it as a lumbering dinosaur that is obsolete in today's world of electronic communications.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.
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LibraryThing member jetangen4571
I have read and enjoyed a host of history based theses and publish-or-perish, but this one was excruciatingly banal. Apparently done with meticulous research, but the presentation was so sleep inducing, even if presented as a lecture by Narrator Jack it would not keep the reader engaged. But if points were to be given for the number of footnotes and references, it would be a winner.
Whoever chose the title was really reaching, but missed.
Received ebook copy free for review from NetGalley.
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LibraryThing member kcshankd
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.
LibraryThing member BruceCoulson
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member fulner
I liked this book. I am surprised by how much I, an anti-government Libertarian, really appreciate the post office ever since taking a class on Stamp Collecting at Cub Scout camp. I miss having a PO Box when I was "forced" to go to the Post Office everyday to see the new stamps and what have you.

Gallagher does a fairly decent job walking us through the history of the animal that is the Government/Business of the USPS.

However from her writing it is very clear that she is a Northern Progressive with little respect for southern conservative folks. I doubt she even realizes that it comes across that way. She focuses a lot more on the first 150 years than the last 100, but she claims because there wasn't much to draw on.

I'm glad that the US didn't try to get the Post to run the Internet as she claims would have been the natural progression. I couldn't imagine the cluster.

Nothing to write-home about, pun intended, but interesting and worth the read regardless.
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LibraryThing member tgeorge2348
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.… (more)


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