What’s in Your Mailbox?

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night


In 1775 Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first postmaster general in the United States.

Letters were taken to a post office, where the postmaster would note the postage in the upper right corner. The postage rate was based on the number of sheets in the letter and the distance it would travel. Postage could be paid in advance by the writer, collected from the addressee on delivery, or paid partially in advance and partially upon delivery. The Post Office Department issued its first postage stamps on July 1, 1847. In 1863 the cost to send a letter was two cents.

For more than 245 years, the Postal Service has lived by its unofficial creed: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds,” unfortunately today, the “swift” part of that quote has slowed down a bit due to financial and legal concerns.

More than 200 federal laws protect the sanctity of the mail and they are enforced by the Postal Inspection Service which safeguards the Postal Service and its customers.

The Postal Service is the only delivery service that reaches every address in the nation: 152,920,433 residences, businesses and Post Office Boxes (2013 statistic). No single operation in the world comes close to matching this level of connectivity.

No email in my computer box matches the connectivity and delight of finding a piece of personal, colorful, cheerful mail in my mailbox. This happens fairly often because I am signed in to postcrossing.com (yes by website and email it’s true and ironic) which gives me addresses from across the world to send postcards and gives others my address for postcards.

Personally I love this for many reasons:

  • I get to share my beautiful part of the world with people across the world, specifically, 206 countries.
  • I see many interesting things I never knew existed.
  • I hear from folks from China to Timbuktu and Boston.
  • I get messages, short and sweet, about other lives, books to read, life quotes, peoples joys and so much more.
  • I enjoy stamps – sharing them, looking at them. Stamps are little reflections of the life around them.

Since July 14, 2005, Postcrossing’s inception, almost 58 million postcards have been received in mailboxes around the world by strangers reaching out to connect to one another. Personally, I have sent postcards for a total distance of 4,897,477 miles around the world since April 2009.

Postcards not your favorite thing? There are plenty of other options to share positive snail mail. There are pen pal sites, prison letter specific sites and sites where your mail can make a difference in a life that needs cheer like moreloveletters.com which connects with people with mental and physical challenges who could use some positive connections. If you start a browser search with “write letters to,” you can find many options.

The unofficial motto of the U.S. Post Office, the one about snow, rain and sleet etc., derives from a passage in George Herbert Palmer's translation of “Herodotus' Histories,” referring to the courier service of the ancient Persian Empire:

“It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed. “— Herodotus, Histories 

This “Creed of the Postal Service” can be found on the wall of a former Washington DC post office, now the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum:

Messenger of Sympathy and Love;

Servant of Parted Friends;

Consoler of the Lonely;

Bond of the Scattered Family;

Enlarger of the Common Life;

Carrier of News and Knowledge;

Instrument of Trade and Industry;

Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance;

Of Peace and Goodwill,

Among Men and Nations.

– Charles W. Eliot

The original of this inscription was called “The Letter” and was written by Dr. Charles W. Eliot, former president of Harvard University. President Woodrow Wilson changed the text slightly before the inscription was carved in the white granite of the Post Office.  

The Post Office has been connecting people to one another, delivering bad news and joy, documents and goods, according to a promise made 245 years ago by the government of these United States. Let’s lay politics aside and celebrate the connection.

Elva K. Österreich is editor of Desert Exposure and would love to meet Desert Exposure readers in Silver City or any of our coverage areas. Please contact her at editor@desertexposure.com or by cell phone at 575-443-4408 to set a place and time to meet.