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Random Thoughts

Zipping Along

Hudson Cooper
Posted 5/20/22

To paraphrase an old song “Zippity do dah, Zippity Ay, My, oh my, I hope my mail comes today.” The U.S. Postal Service has taken steps over the years to try to facilitate their motto. …

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Random Thoughts

Zipping Along


To paraphrase an old song “Zippity do dah, Zippity Ay, My, oh my, I hope my mail comes today.” The U.S. Postal Service has taken steps over the years to try to facilitate their motto. Their motto promises that weather events such as rain, snow, excessive heat and nighttime gloom will not prevent the mail couriers from the swift completion of their rounds. I am uncertain how gloom made that list. I have never heard a weather segment that included a reference such as “overnight will be dark with a chance of foreboding nighttime gloom.”

In the recent past, the postal service has made two significant changes to mail delivery. In April of 2007, the post office began selling “Forever” stamps. They could thereafter raise the rates of first-class mail without the necessity of printing new denominations. It also eliminated the necessity for us to buy 1-cent stamps to add to our postage to make up the difference in the new price.

The biggest addition by the postal service was the introduction of the zip code, the subject of this column. Although we associate the word “zip” with speed, it actually is an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan. Released in 1963 it was hoped that the five numbers to be added to each address would enable sorting machines to quickly dispatch mail around the country.

As the population of the country rose, the postal service, in 1943, introduced the first attempt at assigning a postal zone number to each state. The numbers were sandwiched between the city and state. So, a letter sent to Santa Claus might have an address zone number such as “Workshop, 12, North Pole.”

In 1944, Robert Moon, a postal inspector from Philadelphia, developed a 3-digit code system to sort mail by 900 geographical areas. Eventually the postal service needed a better way to quickly sort mail. The next advancement in mail sorting was the 5-digit zip code developed by H. Bentley Hahn in 1963 that further separated mail into a multitude of geographical areas.

The first three digits of the new code gave a centralized location of the mail in question. The 4th and 5th digit gave a more in-depth site of the delivery. For many of us, that seemed sufficient. But the postal service had another plan in the works.

Twenty years after we became acclimated to the 5-digit zip code system, the postal service introduced what they called the “zip plus 4” nomenclature. Actually the “plus 4” suffix was a perfect name because over time, the post office also referred to it as “plus four codes,” “add-on code” and “add-ons.” For most of us it makes no difference what they call it because, we rarely use it. Whether on your preprinted return labels, an address for the recipient or even filling out a form on the computer, the 5-digit zip code still works. In fact, the “zip plus 4” format is not mandatory.

Zip codes designate locations within the United States and our territories. There is no zip code for other countries with three exceptions. Somehow the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Republic of Palau have all been integrated into the U.S. Postal system.

So, if you want to send a birthday card to your friend Maria in Palau you must include the area code 96940. In the card you can show off your knowledge of her country by mentioning that Maria, with 1,331 entries, is the most popular woman’s name in that Republic.

I suppose that eventually the zip code will be replaced by a bar code system that could be quickly read by postal sorting machines. To predict even further into the future, maybe all mail will someday be transmitted 24 hours a day via the internet. Each of us will be assigned a unique email address for mail. The post office could charge for each transaction electronically. No need for stamps, no junk mail to be opened. Without having to physically deliver mail, post offices could concentrate on receiving and sending packages.

Maybe the new electronic mail system could be called “Zippity.”


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