Ben Franklin Appointed America’s First Postmaster General 

U.S. #1 – Franklin is often considered the father of the American Postal Service.

On July 26, 1775, former deputy postmaster general of the American colonies, Ben Franklin, was made the first postmaster general of the United States.

Benjamin Franklin (1706-90) was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and only attended school until the age of 10. He was an avid reader and quick learner. As a polymath (a person with expertise in a large number of areas), Franklin would eventually become an accomplished author, printer, freemason, scientist, inventor, activist, and statesman.

At the age of 17, Franklin ran away to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to seek his fortune. At that time, Philadelphia was the largest city in the American Colonies. Franklin flourished, and his accomplishments and contributions to the city earned him the title, “The First Citizen of Philadelphia.”

U.S. #3139 was only sold at the PACIFIC ’97 stamp show for 11 days – the shortest sale period in U.S. postal history.

Franklin’s many contributions to the city of Philadelphia include: founding the first subscription library in the American Colonies; organizing the city’s fire department; law enforcement reform; leading efforts to pave, clean, and light public streets; raising money to build the Pennsylvania Hospital; and founding the academy that became the University of Pennsylvania.

U.S. #63 was issued during the Civil War to replace recently demonetized stamps.

In 1753, Franklin was appointed deputy postmaster general of the American Colonies. He greatly improved the frequency and reliability of mail service. By 1761, the post office showed a profit for the very first time. Under Franklin’s supervision, the Colonial post office continued to be profitable for several years. But he was dismissed from the office in 1774 due to his views on Britain’s “taxation without representation.”

U.S. #112 – From the 1869 Pictorials.

As America waged war with the United Kingdom in the summer of 1775, the need arose for an independent mail service, not controlled by the British. Because of long history with mail service in the colonies, Franklin was an obvious choice. On July 26, 1775, the Second Continental Congress established America’s first postal system and selected Benjamin Franklin as its first leader.

U.S. #156 – Bank Note printing with secret mark.

When he was made America’s first postmaster general, Franklin continued to revolutionize mail service in the colonies. He established routes between Florida and Maine, as well as regular service to and from Britain. Franklin also arranged for overnight postal travel between the major cities of New York and Philadelphia.

Additionally, Franklin set standardized rates based upon weight and distance that would remain in effect beyond his tenure. Though Franklin only held the office for a little over a year, his contributions were enormous and earned him the honor of being pictured on America’s first postage stamp.

Early Mail Service in the American Colonies

Postal service in the American colonies began in the early 1600s. Mail delivery was handled by informal and independently operated groups in larger cities. Boston established its first postal routes in 1639, followed by New York City in 1672.

U.S. #1478 – Colonial post rider stamp issued for the Bicentennial series.

Then in 1692, King William III awarded a patent to an English nobleman to collect postal tax on official documents. The tax was only implemented for about a year before it was repealed.

In the coming decades, mail routes were established between Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. During this time, Franklin and others provided American colonists with a new option for mail delivery as many began to distrust the Crown Post. In fact, the mandatory purchase of stamps to pay taxes was eventually one of the causes of the American Revolutionary War.

Click here for a neat graphic showing the expansion of mail service through the U.S.

Click here to see last year’s discussion about This Day in History.

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  1. And the mail still runs today, only at a humongously larger price. Try obtaining something advertised on-line that is advertised as “free” and see exactly how free it is with the outrageously priced postage costs. Hain’t nothin’ free, as they say; except the air you breathe and the government is working on that “problem”.

  2. Maybe we could resurrect Franklin to make the Postal Service profitable again. It is interesting that the common stamp price was a penny until the 30’s when it went to two cents, then 3 cents during the 40’s and 50’s, jumping to 8 cents by the end of the 60’s and 15 cents by the end of the 70’s, then steadily rising but the PO is still not profitable. Where is Ben Franklin when we need him most. He’s on some beautiful stamp for which we can thank the postal system.

  3. Unfortunately if he were around today and working for/with the government,
    they’d find a way to dismiss him. If our early leaders/founders were around this
    day in Philadelphia, they’d be appalled at what’s going in America.

    1. I think you’re wrong. They would be blown away by what’s developed. So narrow a view of life.
      Parks, medicine, education. Beautiful stamps that record our history. Congratulations- you have completely ascended into the negative bubble of regret. What did you do to slow our descent into mediocrity?

  4. Those who complain about today’s postal service should be aware that a lot of it’s problems are due to people who want to put it out of business and hand over all mail delivery to private companies.

  5. I must admit that current Postal rates do seem a bit high to me; however, you must remember that the US Postal Service has been repeatedly hamstrung by Congress. No taxpayer monies (zero) go towards any part of the operating expenses of the USPS; yet Congress has imposed multiple mandates on the Postal Service – in particular the funding of pension and medical programs – requires Congressional approval of Postal rates, and has prevented the USPS from implementing meaningful reforms, or dealing effectively with the Postal Union. As a result, the Postal Service chronically suffers from a lack of innovation, and a surplus of government interference – all the while maintaining service to every single address in the entire United States, no matter how remote or isolated. Plus, the internet has drastically reduced their customer base, in particular for First Class Mail service. Under the circumstances and limitations they face, I think they are doing a fairly good job. They could do a better job if Congress would get out of the way.

    1. George and Charles, you are both correct that certain members in Congress are working overtime to destroy the Postal Service and try to privatize the agency for selfish reasons. I am a strong advocate for a strong and durable Postal Service who can do a lot more than mailing letters and parcels. The USPS needs to revive a postal account to provide financial services for customers at low and affordable costs without being scammed by private lending companies. Benjamin Franklin will be spinning in his grave when he finds out what politicians have done to his Postal Service!

  6. The eldest, and fully thirty years older than other prominent founding fathers of the Constitution (Jefferson/Washington), Benjamin Franklin (BJ) worked in the employ of the British Crown for many years prior to USA Independence, and following the fall of Quebecq (original Flemish spelling), and thus Canada, from French Rule in 1759, BJ found himself working as the first British Post Master General in the Colonies. Among his many achievements, Franklin was the driving force behind the expansion of a regular Postal Service between New York City-Boston-Montreal-Quebec City-Three Rivers in 1763. In recognition of this, Canada issued a stamp in 2013 with Franklin’s portrait superimposed on a scene of Quebec City ostensibly 250 years ago as a thriving port in the new colonies* Of course there was already an efficient service between France-Montreal-Quebec City long before Franklin helped integrate it within a larger Continental Service, eventually reaching as far south as Florida.

    On a more intriguing side, it was also Franklin’s belief that the population of Quebec being substantially Huguenots from Northern France (Normandy, Flanders, Picardy, Anjou) since its founding in 1608, it could conceivably join the thirteen original States in rebelling against British rule. Thus, after the capture of Montreal, Franklin set up at the Ramezay Hotel in 1775, and employed Fleury Mesplet to disseminate his call to raised troops to join the American Revolutionary War, and thus fostered the birth of La Gazette de Montreal (Montreal Gazette). However, the long established population was used to being part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain since 1066 when Wilhelm (the Conq) of Normandy invaded in 1066, and Normans ruled the British Isles for hundreds of years until the 1400s. In the end, abhorrence of French governance was enough for the locals to remain loyal to the British Crown, and BJ’s ‘coup’ did not gain support. Had this eventuated however, Quebec might, at a stroke of the mighty Franklin pen, have become surely the largest of the United States. Great day, Dr Franklin. GdR


    1. If Franklin was born in 1706 and Washington was born in 1732, how could Franklin be :”…fully thirty years older…”?

  7. All of the entries today are very educational. Thanks Everyone. I wanted to say one thing I noticed. We used to have Air mail and mail got to places quicker. Regular mail took about 4 days. Someone in the government said lets send everything like Airmail.Instead of everything going like Air mail used to go, Everything slowed down to the 4 days regular delivery, Previously I lived 20 miles from a place I sent some mail to.. It took 4 days for it to get to it’s destination. The problem is that there seems to be a main Post Office in each area. The city I was in mail went south to the main post office for that area. Then it was sent to the main post office in the north North. Then it was sent to the city I had sent it to. (The Pony express could have made it in one day). . I cannot complain about the 50 cent postage . That is cheaper than going to that city and telling them what you want to say. It may take a long time to get somewhere but 50 cents is cheaper than airfare. The 50 cent postage is the best bargain around.

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