How the Post Office Created America

Connections with the Post Office prompted me to wish for an advance reading copy of How the Post Office Created America by Winifred Gallagher from Penguin Press on my Net Galley account. Early memories of the train dropping off mail to be sorted and posted by our local village grocer in a corner of his store, the later importance of letters to our military family far from home through the APO, and Al’s second career as a rural mail carrier after his Army retirement, formed just a few of the reasons I wanted to read the book. Penguin kindly granted my wish.

The well-researched book recounts the ups and downs of the history of the post office with a couple of themes running throughout – cost and politics. While one might correctly think a historian would enjoy the book, it had other appeals as well. An excerpt from an 1857 love letter reads, “My dearest Ella . . . Every day have I been to the office, expect to find a letter from you, but every day I was doomed to be disappointed. . . I am very fond of sleigh riding, but I can not find any one to accompany me whose company is half so pleasant as yours. . .” This would have come after postage became affordable for the average citizen – and after the sender became the one to pay the postage rather than the recipient.

The country stores that I remembered got their turn along with the military mail and rural delivery. So did women who were hired as postmasters as early as the nineteenth century, particularly in rural areas. It would be a while before women were on equal footing with the men and before “he” and “postmaster” were seen as inaccurate terms for the one running the post office.

In the book that goes on sale July 12, the author finds a way to make the history both informative and entertaining. She closes with her assessment of where the post office should go in the future with a telling quote, as efforts to scale back have received an outcry from the public. “Legislators are well aware of the venerable maxim that one of the few things your congressman can do for you is to save your post office.”