Modern transport and technology

The first airmail flight in Germany, 1912.
The postal system was important in the development of modern transportation. Railways carried railway post offices. During the 20th century, air mail became the transport of choice for inter-continental mail. Postmen started to utilize mail trucks. The handling of mail became increasingly automated.

The Internet came to change the conditions for physical mail. Email (and in recent years social networking sites) became a fierce competitor to physical mail systems, but online auctions and Internet shopping opened new business opportunities as people often get items bought online through the mail.

Modern mail
Modern mail is organized by national and privatized services, which are reciprocally interconnected by international regulations, organizations and international agreements. Paper letters and parcels can be sent to almost any country in the world relatively easily and cheaply. The Internet has made the process of sending letter-like messages nearly instantaneous, and in many cases and situations correspondents use electronic mail where previously they would have used letters. The volume of paper mail sent through the U.S. Postal Service has declined by more than 15% since its peak at 213 billion pieces per annum in 2006.[15][16]

Some countries have organized their mail services as public limited liability corporations without a legal monopoly.

The worldwide postal system comprising the individual national postal systems of the world’s self-governing states is co-ordinated by the Universal Postal Union, which among other things sets international postage rates, defines standards for postage stamps and operates the system of International Reply Coupons.

In most countries a system of codes has been created (referred to as ZIP codes in the United States, postcodes in the United Kingdom and Australia, and postal codes in most other countries), in order to facilitate the automation of operations. This also includes placing additional marks on the address portion of the letter or mailed object, called “bar coding.” Bar coding of mail for delivery is usually expressed either by a series of vertical bars, usually called POSTNET coding, or a block of dots as a two-dimensional barcode. The “block of dots” method allows for the encoding of proof of payment of postage, exact routing for delivery, and other features.
An automated postal machine
The ordinary mail service was improved in the 20th century with the use of planes for a quicker delivery. The world’s first scheduled airmail post service took place in the United Kingdom between the London suburbs of Hendon and Windsor, Berkshire, on 9 September 1911.[17] Some methods of airmail proved ineffective, however, including the United States Postal Service’s experiment with rocket mail.

Receipt services were made available in order to grant the sender a confirmation of effective delivery.

Worldwide, the most common method of prepaying postage is by buying an adhesive postage stamp to be applied to the envelope before mailing; a much less common method is to use a postage-prepaid envelope. Franking is a method of creating postage-prepaid envelopes under licence using a special machine. They are used by companies with large mail programs, such as banks and direct mail companies.

In 1998, the U.S. Postal Service authorised the first tests of a secure system of sending digital franks via the Internet to be printed out on a PC printer, obviating the necessity to license a dedicated franking machine and allowing companies with smaller mail programs to make use of the option; this was later expanded to test the use of personalised postage. The service provided by the U.S. Postal Service in 2003 allows the franks to be printed out on special adhesive-backed labels.

In 2004 the Royal Mail in the United Kingdom introduced its SmartStamp Internet-based system, allowing printing on ordinary adhesive labels or envelopes. Similar systems are being considered by postal administrations around the world.

When the pre-paid envelope or package is accepted into the mail by an agent of the postal service, the agent usually indicates by means of a cancellation that it is no longer valid for pre-payment of postage. The exceptions are when the agent forgets or neglects to cancel the mailpiece, for stamps that are pre-cancelled and thus do not require cancellation and for, in most cases, metered mail. (The “personalised stamps” authorized by the USPS and manufactured by Zazzle and other companies are in fact a form of meter label and thus do not need to be cancelled.)

Privacy and censorship

“The Steamboat” – mobile steaming equipment used by Czech StB for unsticking of envelopes during correspondence surveillance
Documents should generally not be read by anyone other than the addressee; for example, in the United States of America it is a violation of federal law for anyone other than the addressee and the government to open mail.[18] There are exceptions however: executives often assign secretaries or assistants the task of handling their mail; and postcards do not require opening and can be read by anyone. For mail contained within an envelope, there are legal provisions in some jurisdictions allowing the recording of identities of sender and recipient.[19]

The privacy of correspondence is guaranteed by the constitutions of Mexico, Colombia and Brazil, and is alluded to in the European Convention on Human Rights[20] and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[19] The control of the contents inside private citizens’ mail is censorship and concerns social, political, and legal aspects of civil rights. International mail and packages are subject to customs control, with the mail and packages are often surveyed and their contents sometimes are edited out (or even in).[citation needed]

There have been cases over the millennia of governments opening and copying or photographing the contents of private mail.[19][21] Subject to the laws in the relevant jurisdiction, correspondence may be openly or covertly opened, or the contents determined via some other method, by the police or other authorities in some cases relating to a suspected criminal conspiracy, although black chambers (largely in the past, though there is apparently some continuance of their use today) opened and open letters extralegally.

The mail service may be allowed to open the mail if neither addressee nor sender can be located, in order to attempt to locate either. Mail service may also open the mail to inspect if it contains materials that are hazardous to transport or violates local laws.

While in most cases mail censorship is exceptional, military mail to and from soldiers on active deployment is often subject to surveillance. In active fighting, censorship may be especially strict to hide tactical secrets, prevent low morale from bad news, etc.[citation needed]

Rise of electronic correspondence


the mail

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This article is about postal services. For electronic mail, see Email. For other uses, see Mail (disambiguation) and Postal service (disambiguation).

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A universal symbol of mail – an envelope

A USPS mail truck in the United States
The mail or post is a system for physically transporting postcards, letters, and parcels.[1] A postal service can be private or public, though many governments place restrictions on private systems. Since the mid-19th century, national postal systems have generally been established as government monopolies, with a fee on the article prepaid. Proof of payment is often in the form of adhesive postage stamps, but postage meters are also used for bulk mailing. Modern private postal systems are typically distinguished from national postal agencies by the names “courier” or “delivery service”.

Postal authorities often have functions other than transporting letters. In some countries, a postal, telegraph and telephone (PTT) service oversees the postal system, in addition to telephone and telegraph systems. Some countries’ postal systems allow for savings accounts and handle applications for passports.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU), established in 1874, includes 192 member countries and sets the rules for international mail exchanges.
1 Etymology
2 History
2.1 Persia (Iran)
2.2 India
2.3 Rome
2.4 China
2.5 Mongol Empire
2.6 Other systems
2.7 Postal reforms
2.8 Modern transport and technology
3 Modern mail
3.1 Organization
3.2 Payment
3.3 Privacy and censorship
3.4 Rise of electronic correspondence
3.5 Collecting
3.6 Deregulation
4 Types of mail
4.1 Letters
4.1.1 First-Class
4.1.2 Registered and recorded mail
4.1.3 Repositionable notes
4.2 Postal cards and postcards
4.3 Other mail services
5 See also
6 Notes
7 Further reading
8 External links
The word mail comes from the Medieval English word male, referring to a travelling bag or pack.[2] It was spelled that way until the 17th century, and is distinct from the word male. The French have a similar word, malle for a trunk or large box, and mála is the Irish term for a bag. In the 17th century, the word mail began to appear as a reference for a bag that contained letters: “bag full of letter” (1654). Over the next hundred years the word mail began to be applied strictly to the letters themselves, and the sack as the mailbag. In the 19th century the British usually referred to mail as being letters that were being sent abroad (i.e. on a ship), and post as letters that were for localized delivery; in the UK the Royal Mail delivers the post, while in the U.S. the U.S. Postal Service delivers the mail. The term email (short for “electronic mail”) first appeared in the 1970s.[citation needed] The term snail-mail is a retronym to distinguish it from the quicker email. Various dates have been given for its first use.

Post is derived from Medieval French poste, which ultimately stems from the past participle of the Latin verb ponere (“to lay down or place”).[3]

Many early post systems consisted of fixed courier routes. Here, a post house on a postal route in the 19th century Finland
The practice of communication by written documents carried by an intermediary from one person or place to another almost certainly dates back nearly to the invention of writing. However, development of formal postal systems occurred much later. The first documented use of an organized courier service for the diffusion of written documents is in Egypt, where Pharaohs used couriers for the diffusion of their decrees in the territory of the State (2400 BC). The earliest surviving piece of mail is also Egyptian, dating to 255 BC.[4]

Persia (Iran)
Main articles: Royal Road, Chapar-Khaneh, and Angarium
The first credible claim for the development of a real postal system comes from Ancient Persia, but the point of invention remains in question. The best documented claim (Xenophon) attributes the invention to the Persian King Cyrus the Great (550 BC), who mandated that every province in his kingdom would organize reception and delivery of post to each of its citizens. He also negotiated with neighbouring countries to do the same and had roads built from the city of Post in Western Iran all the way up to the city of Hakha in the East. Other writers credit his successor Darius I of Persia (521 BC). Other sources claim much earlier dates for an Assyrian postal system, with credit given to Hammurabi (1700 BC) and Sargon II (722 BC). Mail may not have been the primary mission of this postal service, however. The role of the system as an intelligence gathering apparatus is well documented, and the service was (later) called angariae, a term that in time came to indicate a tax system. The Old Testament (Esther, VIII) makes mention of this system: Ahasuerus, king of Medes, used couriers for communicating his decisions.

The Persian system worked on stations (called Chapar-Khaneh), where the message carrier (called Chapar) would ride to the next post, whereupon he would swap his horse with a fresh one, for maximum performance and delivery speed. Herodotus described the system in this way: “It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed”.[5] The verse prominently features on New York’s James Farley Post Office, although it has been slightly rephrased to Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.


The use of the Scinde Dawk adhesive stamps to signify the prepayment of postage began on 1 July 1852 in the Scinde/Sindh district,[6] as part of a comprehensive reform of the district’s postal system.
Main article: Postal history of India
The economic growth and political stability under the Mauryan empire (322–185 BC) saw the development of impressive civil infrastructure in ancient India. The Mauryans developed early Indian mail service as well as public wells, rest houses, and other facilities for the common public.[7] Common chariots called Dagana were sometimes used as mail chariots in ancient India.[8] Couriers were used militarily by kings and local rulers to deliver information through runners and other carriers. The postmaster, the head of the intelligence service, was responsible for ensuring the maintenance of the courier system. Couriers were also used to deliver personal letters.[9]

In South India, the Wodeyar dynasty (1399—1947) of the Kingdom of Mysore used mail service for espionage purposes thereby acquiring knowledge related to matters that took place at great distances.[10]

By the end of the 18th century, the postal system in India had reached impressive levels of efficiency. According to British national Thomas Broughton, the Maharaja of Jodhpur sent daily offerings of fresh flowers from his capital to Nathadvara (a distance of 320 km), and they arrived in time for the first religious Darshan at sunrise.[11] Later this system underwent complete modernization when the British Raj established its full control over India. The Post Office Act XVII of 1837 provided that the Governor-General of India in Council had the exclusive right of conveying letters by post for hire within the territories of the East India Company. The mails were available to certain officials without charge, which became a controversial privilege as the years passed. On this basis the Indian Post Office was established on October 1, 1837.[12]

Main article: cursus publicus
The first well-documented postal service was that of Rome. Organized at the time of Augustus Caesar (62 BC–AD 14), the service was called cursus publicus and was provided with light carriages (rhedæ) pulled by fast horses. By the time of Diocletian, a parallel service was established with two-wheeled carts (birotæ) pulled by oxen. This service was reserved for government c orrespondence. Yet another service for citizens was later added.[citation needed][dubious – discuss]