Arago: Exhibits

UP

United States Postal Service stamp

United States Master Collection, Scott 1396

The United States Postal Service (USPS) came into being on July 1, 1971 as the result of a four-year reform of the old U.S. Post Office Department. Previously, politicians controlled post office jobs, salaries, and promotions (the postmaster general was usually the sitting president’s former campaign manager). Mounting customer complaints and a 1970 postal workers’ strike, however, demonstrated the need for change. The USPS that emerged from the reform was a semi-independent agency expected to operate like a business and place new emphasis on efficiency.

Postmaster General Winton M. Blount wanted a new corporate seal to replace the ‘horse and rider’ that had been in use since the nineteenth century. Raymond Loewy, a famous industrial artist who had created iconic logos for some of the country’s most successful brands (including Studebaker, Hoover, Exxon, Shell, and International Harvester) was hired to design it. Loewy’s dramatic profile of an eagle about to take flight was more appropriate for an age in which most mail was transported by air.

To celebrate the reform and inaugurate the USPS, President Richard M. Nixon proclaimed July 1 as National Postal Service Day. An 8¢ first-class postage stamp depicting Loewy’s logo was released simultaneously all over the country. Customers could obtain free commemorative envelopes at any post office (or create their own), affix the stamp, and have it cancelled as an official souvenir of the occasion. Many philatelists still collect these first day covers of the stamp. There is a special catalogue devoted to them, and cancellations from some of the small rural post offices are quite rare.

My reason for liking the stamp is more personal. The postal reform it celebrates led directly to my 30-year career with the USPS. Since education and experience now counted heavily in hiring, the service was looking to fast-track individuals with business training into management. I was a newly-minted MBA out of the City University of New York’s Baruch College when the postal service hired me in 1971 to supervise a carrier station in Queens Village. Eventually I became director of operations at the mail processing center in Jamaica, Queens and general manager of the mail facilities at LaGuardia and Kennedy airports before being called to postal headquarters in Washington, D.C.