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Curator's Corner — Parcel Post celebrates 100 years PDF Print E-mail
Saturday, August 17, 2013 12:00 AM

The more you learn about today’s post office, the more difficult it seems to follow all the rules. Today, because of automation, there are rules for shape, sizes, weights, thickness and readability. If you look at the mail you receive, most pieces already have a barcode printed right above your address. These rules have had to evolve as the machinery has become more sophisticated and more and more mail is handled by automation. It’s quite amazing how the handling of mail has changed from the old Post Office Department to the modern day United States Postal Service.

For one, there were some very interesting rules that Postmasters were required to follow. Those of you over the age of 50 might recall that if you sent a parcel and you also wanted to send a letter in or on it, you had to pay separate postage for the letter. The clerk was supposed to ask you what was in the package and if it contained First Class matter. Of course people objected to both the question and the fact that they had to pay additional postage for the letter. The regulation as it reads today states: “Parcel Post mail is not sealed against postal inspection. Regardless of physical closure, the mailing of articles at Parcel Post prices constitutes consent by the mailer to postal inspection of the contents.” Keep in mind that First Class mail cannot be opened under any circumstances – we call that sanctity of the seal.

In the early part of the 20th century, there was one group that really pinched pennies and even got a little joy out of beating the establishment. I am referring to college students. During that time frame, you didn’t have the modern conveniences of washing machines in dormitories ,and since mail delivery of parcel post was quite swift, it was very common for students to mail their dirty laundry home and get back the clean items in a short time frame. Being cautious about postmasters understanding the true letter of the law, the regulations spelled out exactly what was to be done. It stated that postmasters should be extremely diligent by inspecting packages of dirty laundry for personal letters stuck in amongst the clothes. I assure you I believed in having patrons pay the correct amount of postage, but dig through dirty laundry? I think not.

One additional regulation written in those early postal manuals dealt with minors who might be receiving “questionable material” through post office box service. Remember most people received their mail at the post office. If you need further explanation as to what was “questionable” think of the items arriving in a plain brown wrapper. Still not sure what it meant? Please note they specifically stated “minors.” The postmaster was given a directive that if he or she were to discover that minors were indeed receiving this material through the mail, they were required to contact the parents or guardian of the recipient and make them aware of the situation. I don’t think that would go very far today.

The Post Office is celebrating the 100th anniversary of parcel post this year. In the early 1920s, there was a man named William H. Coltharp who was located in Vernal, Utah. He was interested in building a bank in Vernal and wanted to use bricks made by the Salt Lake Pressed Brick Company in Salt Lake City, Utah. Vernal being more than 120 miles away meant that freight charges for the 80,000 bricks would be four times the actual cost of the brick itself. After becoming familiar with post office operations, the bricks were loaded into crates that could not exceed 50 pounds in weight and mailed from Salt Lake to Vernal. The post office became aware of the situation and stated “it is not the intent of the United States Postal Service that buildings be shipped through the mail.” But there really wasn’t anything to stop them from doing it. The Bank of Vernal was completed and was nicknamed “The Parcel Post Bank.” The building still exists and is still used as a bank; it now serves as a branch office of Zion’s Bank and is located on West Main Street in the city of Vernal.


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