The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






United States Postal Service

United States Postal Service (USPS) is the United States government organization responsible for providing postal service in the United States and is generally referred to as "the post office." It was created to fulfill the mandate in the United States Constitution empowering Congress "To establish Post Offices and post Roads". Originally a cabinet department, it was later converted to a government-owned corporation. Competition from e-mail and private operations such as United Parcel Service, FedEx, and DHL has caused USPS to adjust its business strategy and to modernize its products and services.

The USPS is headed by a Board of Governors or Governor of the United States Postal Service, (appointed by the President and confirmed by the US Senate), who serve as its corporate board of directors, they set policy and procedure and postal rates for services rendered. The United States Postmaster General, formerly appointed by the president and confirmed by the senate, but now appointed by the board of governors, serves as Chief Operating Officer and deals with the day to day activities of the service.

Although they are governmental in nature, they have for the last few years insisted on using as their primary Internet address, with a .com top level domain implying that they are a commercial entity. The more-appropriate address merely redirects to the .com version. However, some links on the website, like to the international rate calculator, link back to .gov, and the .com address does not work.

Being the only mail carrier that delivers to all addresses in the United States, the United States Postal Service is also a symbol of the United States in many rural areas. First-Class Mail, starting at 37 cents (USD), is still the least expensive and most universal method to send a letter in the US.

The USPS also has the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world, with an estimated 170,000 vehicles.

Although its consumer customer service centers are called post offices in regular speech, the USPS usually designates them as "stations."


Addressing envelopes

For any letter addressed within the United States, it is required to have two things on the envelope. The first is the address of the recipient, to be placed in the center of the envelope. It is sometimes required to put the name of the addressee above the address; regardless, it is always a good idea to do so. (Another optional addition to the address is a ZIP+4 code.) The second is the stamp, which costs 37 upwards, depending on the weight of the letter and the class, and is placed in the upper-right corner. A third, and optional (but strongly suggested) addition is a return address. This is the address you wish the recipient to respond to, and, if neccesary, the letter to be returned to if delivery fails. It is placed in the upper-left corner.

The formatting of the address is as follows:
Line 1: Name of recipient
Line 2: Street address or P.O. Box
Line 3: City, ISO 3166-2:US code and ZIP code
Mr. John Doe
1111 Such-and-such St.
New York, NY 10036

The formatting of a return address is identical.

The USPS maintains a list of proper abbreviations at this page

Major products and services

First Class Mail

The normal mail service used by individuals and business sending a small amount of mail. One rate regardless of distance.

  • Letters: The cost to send a letter weighing up to 1 ounce (28 g) is 37 cents.
  • Sending a postcard costs 23 cents.
  • Packages weighing up to 13 ounces (369 g) can be sent.
  • Best effort delivery including return service for undeliverable mail.
  • Forwarding service: With a change of address, mail coming to the old address will be sent to the new address for up to 12 months.
  • Available to anyone.
  • Recommendations (but no enforced rules) about mailpiece quality and addressing.
  • Mail is picked up at customer's house or place of business, or can be dropped in any public mail collection box.
  • Delivery to every address in the United States, except some small towns with no delivery to addresses within a quarter mile (400 m) of the post office.

Standard Mail

Used mainly for businesses.

  • Minimum 200 pieces per mailing
  • Must weigh less than 16 ounces (454 g)
  • No return service unless requested (an additional fee is charged for return service)
  • Not for personal correspondence, letters, bills, or statements
  • Annual fee

Bulk Mail

Used for businesses to send large quantities of mail.

  • Can be First Class or Standard Mail
  • Discounted rates
  • Permit required
  • Enforced rules about mailpiece quality and addressing.
  • May require additional work by the sender, such as pre-sorting by zip code.
  • Mail must usually be brought to a postal facility.

Parcel Post

Used to send packages weighing up to 70 pounds (31.75 kg)

  • Rates based on distance, weight, and shape
  • Delivery to every address in the United States

Media Mail

Formerly known as "Library mail" or "Book Rate," Media Mail is used to send books, printed materials, sound recordings, videotapes, CD-ROMs, diskettes, and similar, but cannot contain advertising. Maximum weight is 70 pounds (31.75 kg).

  • Rates based on weight
  • Much cheaper than Parcel Post, but sometimes slower

Priority Mail

Priority Mail is an expedited mail service with a few additional features.

  • Average delivery time is 2-3 days (but this is NOT guaranteed, may take much longer)
  • Flat rate envelopes and boxes available (one rate for whatever you put in the envelope)
  • Packages up to 70 pounds (31.75 kg).
  • Label can be printed online
  • Delivery to every address in the United States

Express Mail

Express Mail is the fastest mail service.

  • Typically overnight or second-day delivery
  • Flat rate envelope available
  • Packages up to 50 pounds (22.7 kg)
  • Delivery to most addresses in the United States
  • Guaranteed on-time delivery
  • Sunday and holiday delivery

Money Orders

  • Provide safe alternative to sending cash through the mail
  • Money orders are cashable only by the recipient, like a bank check

Global Priority and Global Express Mail

Expedited and express service to several countries.

Airline Division

The United States Postal Service does not directly own or operate any aircraft. The mail and packages are flown on airlines with which they have a contractual agreement. The contracts change periodically. Depending on the contract, you may see aircraft painted with the USPS paint scheme. Contract airlines have included: Emery Worldwide, Ryan International, Federal Express, Rhoades Aviation, and Express 1 International.

Add-on Services

Delivery Confirmation

  • Confirms delivery of package
  • Detailed package tracking is not included, but information is sometimes available
  • Results available online or telephone
  • Only available with First Class Mail, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Media Mail, Parcel Post, and Bound Printed Matter)

Signature Confirmation

  • Confirms delivery with signature
  • Recipient's signature is kept on file
  • Only available with First Class Mail, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Media Mail, Parcel Post, and Bound Printed Matter)


  • Provides package with insurance from loss or damage while in transit
  • Available for amounts up to $5,000
  • Covers material losses only minus depreciation

Certified Mail

  • Provides proof of mailing, and a delivery record
  • Available for First Class Mail and Priority Mail

Registered Mail

  • Provides mailing receipt, delivery record, and protection for valuables
  • Available for Priority Mail and First Class Mail

Collect On Delivery (C.O.D.)

  • Allows merchants to offer customers a chance to pay upon delivery
  • Insurance comes included with fee
  • Amount to be collected cannot exceed $1,000
  • Available for First-Class Mail, Express Mail, Priority Mail, and Package Services (Parcel Post, Bound Printed Matter, and Media Mail)

Postage Stamps

Copyright and Reproduction

All US postage stamps and other postage items that were released before 1978 are in the public domain. After this time they are copyright by the postal service under Title 17 of the United States Code. Written permission is required for use of copyrighted postage stamp images. [1]

PC Postage

In addition to using standard stamps, postage can now be printed from a Personal computer using a system called Information Based Indicia . Authorized providers of PC Postage are:

  • Pitney Bowes
  • Endicia Internet Postage


For a number of years, the US Postal Service has been head sponsor of a professional cycling team, bearing its name. The team features Lance Armstrong, winner of the Tour de France from 1999 to 2004. The sponsorship ends in 2004, and the Discovery Channel has stepped in as the main sponsor after that, with the team to be renamed the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling Team.

Employment in the US Postal Service

The US Postal Service employs more people than any other single company in the United States except Wal-Mart. It employed 790,000 personnel in 2003, divided into offices, processing centers, and actual post offices. USPS employees are divided into three major categories according to the work they engage in.

  • Carriers, also referred to as mailmen, are the most public face of the USPS.
  • Mail handlers and processors often work at the evening and night to prepare mail and bulk goods for the carriers to deliver. Work is physically strenuous, especially for mail handlers; many mailbags loaded from and onto trucks weigh as much as 60 pounds (27 kg).
  • Clerks work in the post offices, handling customers' needs, receiving express mail, and selling stamps. DCO's (Data Conversion Operators), who type out and forward mail to their destinations.
  • Truck drivers deliver mail to and from facilities.

Postal Inspection Service

The United States Postal Inspection Service is the oldest federal law enforcement agency in the USA. It originated in 1772, when colonial Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin appointed a surveyor or special agent to regulate and audit the mails – 4 years before the Declaration of Independence.

As Franklin was Postmaster under the Continental Congress and was Washington’s first Postmaster, his system continued. By 1830, the special agents had grown to become the Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations.

USPIS investigates mail related crimes. This is not just theft or sending illegal material, but includes attacks on letter carriers; since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the USPS has also investigated several cases of ricin, Anthrax and other toxic substances being sent through the mail.

In addition to plain-clothes inspectors there is the uniformed Postal Security Force whose security police officers protect major postal facilities, escort high-value mail shipments, and perform other protective functions.

The Postal Inspection Service operates four forensic crime laboratories, including forensic scientists and technical specialists so that the service can be an entirely independent agency enforcing more than 200 federal postal laws.

Many of its duties were transferred to the USPS Office of the Inspector General. These duties tended to be in the internal fraud, waste and abuse categories.

Public Reputation

In the early 1990s, there was a widely publicized wave of workplace shootings by disgruntled employees at USPS facilities. Thanks to sensationalistic media coverage, postal employees gained a mostly undeserved reputation among the general public as being mentally ill. This stereotype in turn has influenced American culture, as seen in the slang term "going postal" and the computer game Postal. Another example is the movie Men in Black II, where all of Tommy Lee Jones' co-workers at the post office turn out to be aliens.

Due to the rash of shootings, the USPS made firearms possession by employees a criminal offense.

See also

External links

  • USPS Official web site
  • History of the United States Postal Service
  • US Postal Inspection Service Official Site
  • US Postal Service cycling team

Last updated: 02-03-2005 23:53:19
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55