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How Ben Franklin Established the US Post Office

August 10, 2020 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Franklin traveled widely to select postal routes, find the best clerks and create a system of communication for horse-riders who carried the mail.

During the . That year he was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia, after British authorities removed his predecessor for failing to submit financial reports. As Devin Leonard notes in his book Neither Snow Nor Rain: A History of the United States Postal Service, being a local postmaster didn’t pay mucha 10 percent commission on customers’ postage—but it came with a big fringe benefit. Franklin had franking privileges, which enabled him to mail his newspaper to readers at no cost. That helped Franklin build a big circulation and turn the Pennsylvania Gazette into one of the colonies’ most successful publications.

In a similar way that modern politicians and celebrities rely on Twitter, Franklin used the mail for self-promotion. As Leonard notes, Franklin’s ability to send his own letters without paying postage—he instead simply inscribed them with “Free.B.Franklin”—enabled him to correspond with other intellectuals in Europe. That helped to publicize Franklin’s achievements, “thereby helping to make Franklin into one of the world’s most admired Americans,” as Leonard writes. Stanford University historian Caroline Winterer, who has studied the 20,000 letters left behind by Franklin, describes him as “a man with a dynamic social network” comparable to our interconnected world today.

READ MORE: How Presidents Have Communicated With the Public—From Telegraph to Twitter

Britain Appoints Franklin as Postmaster of 13 Colonies

Franklin, a meticulous record-keeper, was so skillful at running postal operations in Philadelphia that in 1753, the British Crown appointed him as joint postmaster for all 13 colonies. Though he nominally shared authority with William Hunter, a Virginia-based printer, Hunter pretty much let Franklin call the shots, according to Leonard’s book. Franklin held that post for more than two decades, during which he orchestrated huge improvements in mail service, including establishing a regular schedule that allowed mail to move efficiently along post roads up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

Franklin “traveled widely to inspect postal routes, find the most reliable postal clerks to serve as his associates in the different towns and cities, and create a system of communication that would work well for riders of the post,” Mulford explains.

“Franklin had foresight. He was a good systems analyst,” Mulford says. “He was agreeable to work with, when others were agreeable. And he was an excellent trouble-shooter, …read more


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