How the Post Office Created America: Book review


Linn’s Stamp News: “The history of the post office is nothing less than the story of America,” begins Winifred Gallagher in the introduction to her entertaining new book, How The Post Office Created America: A History.

While some might take this as a provocative assertion, Gallagher makes a compelling case by tracing the arc of the post office to show how it “made us the people we are.”  She begins, not surprisingly, with Benjamin Franklin and his profound influence on the development of postal communication in the British colonies.  She then goes on to trace the legal developments that transformed the post office from a small network catering to a select few into a much larger system that began to ride “the frontier’s constantly moving western edge.”

There were tough times during this period of expansion, and Gallagher efficiently recounts how the nation’s postal system almost collapsed under its own weight in the early 1840s, the victim of what she calls “the toxic combination of the troubled economy, the system’s relentless westward growth, and competition over pricing.”  In time, though, these obstacles were overcome, and by the 1850s, Gallagher notes, “average Americans” were able “to enjoy easy, back-and-forth personal correspondence for pennies.”

Also discussed are the pivotal roles played by the railroads and steamships, which helped move the mail with heretofore unimagined swiftness.  Read more.