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ZIP Code History: Navigating Mail for 50 Years

Kurt Ruppel

Did you know the first week in July marked two important dates in our nation’s history? While America celebrated its 237th birthday on July 4th, the ZIP code also celebrated its 50-year anniversary on July 1st.

Interestingly, newspapers in Minnesota and Pennsylvania both ran fascinating stories on the history of the ZIP code and its importance to not just the mailing industry, but the entire U.S. economy. In fact, the USPS Office of the Inspector General, along with IBM, recently estimated the annual value of ZIP codes at $9 billion.

It goes without saying that IWCO Direct holds the ZIP code in high regard, as it’s crucial to our customers’ direct marketing campaigns. We depend on it as the organizing principle behind our effective postal strategies, including high density commingling and logistics management to provide the lowest possible postage rates and more timely delivery of our customers’ direct mail offers. But according to this article from the Star Tribune, the ZIP code is invaluable for many business decisions such as setting mortgage rates and insurance premiums to helping retailers decide where to build new stores. The ZIP code is also important for mapping applications that allow consumers to find a store nearest their location.

What’s remarkable is that while the ZIP code is ubiquitous today, it wasn’t always an easy sell. The Postal Service included a cartoon mascot when unveiling its plan in 1962. Mr. ZIP (pictured below) was often considered a key promotional piece to winning over public opinion.


Consider these additional ZIP code and Postal Service facts from a recent Reading Eagle article (Berks County, PA):

  • There are about 43,000 ZIP codes in the U.S.
  • The U.S. Postal Service already had been using two-digit codes for large cities since 1943. It introduced five-digit codes in 1963 for all addresses.
  • In 1983 the Postal Service started an expanded system that it called ZIP+4, adding four digits to further specify locations, but it was resisted by many customers and remains voluntary.
  • The Postal Service is considering geocoding, the process of associating precise latitude and longitude coordinates with physical addresses, including ZIP code boundaries, to help form more efficient routes and speed mail and parcel delivery.
  • The Postal Service delivers more mail to more addresses in a larger geographical area than any other service in the world. It handles more than 152 million homes, businesses and post office boxes in every city, town and township in the country and its territories.
  • The Postal Service receives no tax dollars.

We’ve written at length about the value of the mailing industry, but we typically frame it in terms of job creation and revenue building. In a broader sense, the ZIP code was a groundbreaking development by the Postal Service that has continued to add immeasurable value not only to America’s entire economy, but to consumer experience as well. Here’s to the next 50 years of this amazing invention!

Photo Credits:
Header image source: www.smithsonianmag.com
In-post image source: www.readingeagle.com

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2013/07/17/zip-code-history/
Kurt Ruppel


Kurt Ruppel

Kurt Ruppel is Director Postal Policy and Marketing Communications. He educates clients on postal regulations and rates, helps ensure mail packages meet spec, and develops postal strategies that achieve in-home delivery targets at the best possible postage rates. Kurt has brought the “all of us know more than any of us” business philosophy to IWCO Direct for more than 30 years (oy!). He is a three-time IWCO Direct President’s Award winner, Chairman of the EMA Board of Directors, graduate of Utah State University, gardening enthusiast, and Ohio State Buckeye Football fan.

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