National Geographic : 1954 Jul
Everyone's Servant, the Post Office community or so personal in its relations with our people." Yet most of us are inclined to take the postal service pretty much for granted. We mail our letters of love, sympathy, friendship, or business and seldom give their safe delivery a second thought. How, then, does the omnipresent but little known Post Office operate? How does it move the paper blizzard that engulfs it daily? Seeking the answers, I visited post offices large and small, talked to scores of officials, and traveled with the mail afoot, on horse back, in rail and highway post offices, and by helicopter. I found the service astir with change. The Postmaster General and his key aides are pressing a vigorous modernization program to cope with the increasing work load. Seven Bureaus Operate Postal System The Department keeps abreast of its job through the well-integrated work of seven large Bureaus: Operations, which supervises post offices and carriers; Transportation; Fi nance; Facilities, responsible for real estate, purchases, and vehicles; Personnel; the Con troller; and the Chief Postal Inspector's Office. Except for the last two, both specialized branches, all the Bureaus are headed by for mer executives of large business firms. For a firsthand view of the flood tide of mail, officials conducted me on attic-to-base ment tours of the Nation's two largest post offices, New York and Chicago. Together they handle more than 7.5 billion pieces of mail a year and yield 15 percent of the De partment's total revenue. New York, ranking No. 1, boasts perhaps the most famous post office building in the - A "Niagara Falls" of Parcels Seems Ready To Swamp These New York City Clerks The Nation's largest post office serves only two of New York's five boroughs-Manhattan and the Bronx. Yet it earns a tenth of United States postal revenue, and every day it dispatches an average 17 million pieces of mail, including 192,000 parcels. A kind of ordered chaos prevails inside the cavern ous halls where this avalanche is handled. Here a pre-Christmas flood, swept in by conveyor belt, pours down a metal slide which employees dub "Niagara Falls." Parcels fly in many directions as clerks sepa rate them by regions and States; elsewhere they are sorted by cities and distribution centers. © National Geographic Society Kodachrome by National Geographic Photographers Volkmar Wentzel and Donald McBain world, thanks to this inscription across its broad Eighth Avenue facade: NEITHER SNOW NOR RAIN NOR HEAT NOR GLOOM OF NIGHT STAYS THESE COURIERS FROM THE SWIFT COMPLETION OF THEIR APPOINTED ROUNDS Thus wrote the Greek historian, Herodotus, about 430 B.C., in praise of mounted couriers employed by King Xerxes of Persia. The translation is by architect William Mitchell Kendall, who designed the building more than 40 years ago. Since then the quotation has become world famous. Many persons, both here and abroad, believe that it is the Department's official motto. Actually, the Department does not have an official slogan. 'Twas the week before Christmas when I visited the Big City, and its citizens were posting mail at the rate of 25 million pieces every 24 hours. Postal employment, normally 36,000, had jumped to 52,000. Experienced employees were working overtime. Peter J. McEntee, an assistant general superintendent, acted as my host. First, for an over-all general impression, we trudged around and then through the huge General Post Office. Let's assume you are walking with us. Post Office Resembles a Factory It's late afternoon; the day's mail volume is nearing a peak. Outside the building big olive-drab trucks push their tail gates up to the high unloading platform. Workmen swarm aboard and toss out scores of sacks crammed with letters. Foremen shout commands, and quick hands pile mounds of mail on big wagons. Then off go the wagons, some pushed by workmen, others pulled by tractors insistently beeping with their horns for right of way. Retreating inside, you find yourself in a world of mechanical gadgetry. Now you are walking beneath a maze of conveyor belts bearing streams of letters. A moment later you are watching hundreds of envelopes whiz through canceling machines. On another floor you see parcels cascading in a brown flood down a huge metal chute-"Niagara Falls," workmen call it (opposite page). Your impression? A strange kind of fac tory, for that's essentially what a large post office is. And possibly you conclude that the postage stamp, most prosaic of purchases, may well be the world's best bargain.