NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (8)
October 25, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of (one of) their nerdy obsessions.
THE POST OFFICE
I am a big fan of the post office.
Many people enjoy our national access to low-cost mail delivery, and yet post office memes often include disgruntled and unstable workers, bureaucratic nightmares, or fear uncertainty and doubt from people who haven’t been inside a post office in years. I work in a public library so I get the image problem but I feel the post office is not just a good deal but also endlessly fascinating.
I grew up in a rural area, where my mailing address was just “RFD Stow Road.” RFD stands for Rural Free Delivery. While US cities had mail delivery as early as 1863, it was somewhat erratic since homes didn’t get mail slots until 1923. Before then, the mailman, always a man back then, would ring the bell, sometimes waiting for the owner to return. Since 65% of the US population was rural back then (17% now), getting mail to people in less-populated areas became a priority; rural areas got mail delivery in 1896.
Rural postal service was different. Post offices moved frequently and were often inside general stores or even people’s houses. You could get stamps or send packages by leaving money in your mailbox with a note. This still works in Vermont. Post offices numbers peaked in 1901 at 77,000; as people moved to urban areas, post offices began closing. My town of 4,500 has three post offices, one for each village, but only one is open full time. Here are some photos of Vermont post offices to give you an idea. In contrast here’s a twitter bot with images of every post office in the US.
Postal work was solid government work. The post office was committed to equality when many places weren’t. It was seen as a good job for African American workers, and Black postal workers fought for better rights and better worker protections over time. A woman’s access to the mail at home had often been curtailed by her husband or father. No longer! Post offices had special windows for women in seventy-five cities so that women could get their own mail at the post office, as privately as they wished.
Big city post offices use interesting technology to move the mail. Some postal workers wore roller skates to move around more quickly. Until 1953, at least some mail was delivered via pneumatic tubes, with workers called rocketeers!
Some post offices were so small they served only a single person. Rudyard Kipling lived in Vermont for a while and received, at times, more mail than the entire city of Brattleboro. He applied for and was given his own post office—the Waite Vermont postmark is much sought after by philatelists to this day—from 1895 through 1897.
Zip codes were introduced in 1963 to enable more efficient mail routing. Approximately 7000 people share your zip code. While people make a big deal about the future solvency of the post office, it’s worth noting that the post office has not been funded by public money since 1982.
The post office is also surprisingly good at documenting its own good (and bad) history and they maintain a web page of postal facts. Stop by a post office, get yourself a sheet of Raven Story stamps, the first stamp designed by a Native American, and marvel that you can send a letter over 5,000 miles for just fifty-eight cents. I think you’ll become a fan of the post office too.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Peggy Nelson | Andrew Sempere on NERDING | Blanca Rego on RAIN | Lucy Sante on PSEUDO-AMERICAN PSEUDONYMS OF FRENCH PULP WRITERS DURING WWII | Heather Cole on AMERICAN GIRL | Nicholas Rombes on OLD GEOLOGY SURVEY BOOKS WITH MAP INSERTS | Susan Roe on TIME | Mark Kingwell on SCALE MODELS | Jessamyn West on THE POST OFFICE | Josh Glenn on ARDUIN | Vanessa Berry on NEWSAGENCY AESTHETICS | Toby Ferris on BRITISH/EALING WW2 FILMS | Annie Nocenti on MOSS | Adam McGovern on JOAN SEMMEL | Gabriela Pedranti on ILLUSTRATED BOOKS | Miranda Mellis on DOUBT | Tom Nealon on PAGE EDGES | Mandy Keifetz on KLINGON CONFIDENTIAL (NOVEL EXCERPT) | Eric Weisbard on SUMMATIONS | Kio Stark on LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION CODES | Charlie Mitchell on REPO MAN | James Parker on SEINFELD | Heather Kapplow on NOTHING | Russell Bennetts on VIDEO GAMES: MODE 7 | Vijay Parthasarathy on VIRTUAL TRAVEL | Marc Weidenbaum on NERD PROXIMITY.
KICK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2022): KUILL | CATO | RAWHIDE | VOLSTAGG | THE APOSTLE PETER & 20 other sidekicks. NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | DOUBT | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.