Arago: Mail Processing

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Mail Processing

What happens when you drop a letter in the mailbox? How does a package get to its final destination? Although the general public rarely gets a look behind the scenes, mail processing is not that mysterious. All across America, postal employees follow the same basic steps: mail is collected, distributed, sorted, transported, and delivered to its final destination.

Mail processing begins with mail preparation. Once mail has been collected, it must be faced and cancelled. Facing aligns all of the letters in the same direction so that they can be cancelled by a machine. Canceling marks the stamps so they cannot be used again and adds a postmark. After the preparation, the mail is sorted and transported to the local post office at its final destination. Letter carriers take the mail the last few miles of its jouney, taking care that each letter gets to the correct address.

Some post offices and mail sorting centers offer tours. Contact your local postmaster to see if you can get a behind the scenes peek to see how the mail is processed.


Additional Records
  • Overview
  • Photograph of Christmas mail
  • Photograph of Farrington Automatic Address Reading machine
  • Photograph of interior of Trans World Airline (TWA) Skymaster
  • Photograph of military mail censors at work
  • Photograph of postal clerk sorting airmail
  • Photograph of postal clerks processing mail
  • Photograph of postal clerks sorting mail
  • Photograph of postal clerks transferring mail sacks
  • Photograph of postal employee working in a mail processing center
  • Photograph of Railway Post Office loading area
  • Photograph of snorkel chute curbside mailbox
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