When I started my career in the Postal Service in 1979, in Fort Scott, Kansas, there were still Railway Post Office Clerks working, even though sorting mail on train cars while the trains moved between cities—a practice started in the middle of the 19th century—had passed away, and those remaining clerks were required to sort mail inside the post office like the rest of us.
To show how the post office has always adapted to changing times and technology, and has always had an effect on the commerce of our country, here is something from Wikipedia on how winding down the Railway Post Office impacted the railroad industry:
In September 1967 the POD [the old “Post Office Department”] cancelled all “rail by mail” contracts, electing to move all First Class mail via air and other classes by road (truck) transport. This announcement had a devastating effect on passenger train revenues; the Santa Fe, for example, lost $35 million (US) in annual business [about $244 million in today’s dollars], and led directly to the ending of many passenger rail routes.
In the Fort Scott post office in 1979 we were still sorting by hand all outgoing mail generated in all of southeast Kansas, as automation had not yet taken over most of the sortation process as it has today. Now, machines process most of the mail and send it on its way to the tune of about 160 billion pieces a year, to 151 million (and growing) addresses, all of which supports a $1 trillion industry that employs close to 9 million workers.
Thanks to a commenter who sent me a link to an article on Esquire.com, I discovered the most enlightening view of what the Postal Service does that you will ever read. If you really want to know what we stand to lose as a country should we lose the Postal Service, if you really want to know how the massive operation works, you should follow the link and take the time to read the rather lengthy article, well-researched and well-written by Jesse Lichtenstein and titled,
If we are going to allow it to die, or as some of us believe, if we are going to allow its enemies to kill it, we at least should know what it is that is dying.
The modern post office is a complicated but highly efficient system, mostly operated by productive employees who are dedicated to doing their jobs, providing a service, uniting the country unlike any other government entity can do.
In the Esquire article you will discover not only how the Postal Service operates and its value to us as a nation, but you will find that far from being the problem, at least one postal union, the National Association of Letter Carriers—an organization for whom I served several years—has offered workable solutions, “shared sacrifice and growth,” to the USPS’ troubles.
Please carve out some time to read the Esquire piece, if you care to know something about an overwhelmingly successful agency of government and why its success may not be enough to save it.