Today in 1792, George Washington signed the Post Office Act, creating the United States Postal Service. Under the act, newspapers would be allowed in the mails at low rates to promote the spread of information across the states. To ensure the sanctity and privacy of the mails, postal officials were forbidden to open any letters in their charge unless they were undeliverable. Finally, Congress assumed responsibility for the creation of postal routes, ensuring that mail routes would help lead expansion and development instead of only serve existing communities.
Richard John, in Spreading the News: “After 1792, [the American postal system] rapidly transformed into a dynamic institution that would exert a major influence on American commerce, politics, and political thought … The steady flow of information [delivered by the postal service] helped to introduce a widely scattered population to two key ideas: that the boundaries of the community in which they lived extended well beyond the confines of their individual locality, state, or region, and coincided more or less with the territorial limits of the United States; and that the central government might come to shape the pattern of everyday life.”
In its fiscal year 2012, the USPS delivered 159.9 billion pieces of mail, down from 202 billion in 2008.