From U.S. Post Office Department to U.S. Postal Service
July 1, 1971 was much like any other Thursday at Post Offices across the United States. Flags were raised, letters were sorted, clerks waited on customers, carriers loaded their vehicles and delivered mail on their routes. Despite the apparent consistency in operations, the day would go on to be historic.
On that day, the U.S. Post Office Department became the U.S. Postal Service, a transformation made possible by the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970.
The organization’s achievements during the past half-century include the introduction of ZIP+4 Codes (1983), its first website (1994), Forever stamps (2007) and new products and services like Every Door Direct Mail (2011) and Informed Delivery (2017).
This spirit of innovation continues through Delivering for America, the organization’s new 10-year plan, which focuses on restoring service excellence, achieving financial stability and making new investments in people, technology and infrastructure.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon signed into law the Postal Reorganization Act, the most comprehensive postal legislation since the founding of the republic. This law transformed the cabinet-level Post Office Department into a new independent establishment of the executive branch called the United States Postal Service.
While the new law dramatically altered the management structure, responsibilities, and authorities of the Postal Service, most of the changes were invisible to the public. To mark the transition, Nixon proclaimed July 1, 1971, as “National Postal Service Day” at every Post Office across the country. Postmaster General Winton Blount called July 1 “a day when the general public and the people of the Postal Service [could] join together in a warm and friendly manner.”
More than 400 current Postal Service employees began their careers working for the Post Office Department.
Celebrating 50 years of service
To help commemorate its 50th anniversary, the Postal Service interviewed 25 postal employees who were on the job on July 1, 1971. All 25 employees began their careers under the U.S. Post Office Department and were still working for the Postal Service nearly half a century later, when they were interviewed in early 2021.
Most of the participants were born in the 1940s and ranged in age from 67 to 84 years at the time of the interviews. They served in a variety of occupations—as clerks, carriers and in administrative roles—with the highest percentage (10 of the 25) serving as city letter carriers. Eighteen men and seven women were interviewed, spanning the country from coast to coast. Over the past 50-plus years, they have served in the nation’s largest cities—New York, Los Angeles and Chicago— and in some of its smallest towns, including Hebron, NE, and Bristol, VT.
Topics of discussion during the interviews included the employees’ backgrounds, early on-the-job memories and some of the changes they had experienced during their careers. While their backgrounds and careers were diverse, common themes emerged in many of the interviews: a love for the job, dedication to their customers and respect for customers and co-workers.
The USPS 50th Anniversary Oral History Project was directed by the USPS Historian’s Office. Interviews were conducted by USPS Corporate Communications field staff in person, by telephone and via computer—all during the global COVID-19 pandemic. These interviews were recorded and transcribed for long-term preservation in the Historian’s Office at USPS Headquarters in Washington, DC, where they will be available to future generations of researchers.
To read highlights from the interviews, see “Fifty Years of Service to the Nation: Highlights from the USPS 50th Anniversary Oral History Project.”