While traveling from Wyoming to New York City, Winifred Gallagher was struck by the vast size of the United States. The trip inspired her to write about the agency fondly remembered for traversing the length of the country delivering correspondence: the post office.
“I started wondering what kept the whole thing knitted together,” said Gallagher. “I realized it was our communication and our information network, our post office.”
Her book, “How the Post Office Created America,” chronicles how the organization transformed the US physically, socially, politically and economically.
From the generation of money orders to driving consumer culture, the list of the agency’s economic impact is especially long.
“Economically, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of the post office,” said Gallagher.
At the turn of the 20th century, the post office was experiencing its golden age. Pittsburgh was a hub in that system, according to Gallagher. It was vital in transporting communication from the east coast to the newer, wilder west.
The Great Depression plus two World Wars, however, quickly changed that narrative. By the 1960s, the postal service was underfunded and melting down.
“They simply were so overwhelmed with the amount of mail and the inadequate resources that they stopped delivering mail for several weeks,” said Gallagher.
According to Gallagher, this disruption affected the advancement of the post office.
“There has been great grounds in modernizing traditional paper mail and packages but unfortunately they missed the opportunity to join the digital revolution in the 1980s.”
Today, the post office exists as a business-government hybrid. It does not receive tax dollars, but it does have to adhere to some government regulations.
Gallagher thinks the postal service may evolve in the future, but will not go away.
“Both red and blue states have a lot of support for the post office. The post office is an enormous national asset.”
More EP Archives can be heard here.