First U.S. Automated Post Office 

U.S. #1164 was issued on this day in 1960.

On October 20, 1960, America’s first automated post office opened in Providence, Rhode Island.

By the mid-1950s, Post Offices around the country were dealing with a massive amount of mail that they struggled to keep up with using their traditional systems. In 1958, Postmaster general Arthur Summerfield approved the construction of the first fully automated post office in the country in Providence, Rhode Island.

Remember – you can click the images for more conditions and covers.  And if you want to build your own This Day in History album, click here.

The construction broke ground on April 2, 1959. The project planners had a number of obstacles to overcome. They needed to create machines to quickly and efficiently cull and assemble each kind and class of mail, plus face, sort, and cancel it by priority, as well as separate it out by destination. The project was dubbed Operation Turnkey, because the post office would be able to process mail with the “turn of a key.”

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The post office was equipped with the latest technology available to be able to move more than one millions pieces of mail every day. At the center of the building stood a 25-foot control tower to serve as the nerve center. By the time it was completed, the post office had six culling machines, six positioning and canceling machines, 11 letter sorting machines, two parcel post sorting machines, and more than 15,700 feet of conveyor belts.

U.S. #1164 FDC – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover.

Earlier in 1960, it was suggested that a stamp be issued to honor this tremendous first. The Citizen’s Stamp Advisory Committee rejected it, as they thought it was self-serving and would be unpopular as many blamed automation for increased unemployment. In the end, the postmaster general decided to issue the stamp anyway.

U.S. #1489-98 was issued for Postal Week in 1973 to emphasize the important duties of America’s postal workers.

The stamp was issued on October 20, 1960, the same day the post office officially opened for business. The stamp turned out to be quite popular – with over 833,000 copies and 458,000 First Day Covers sold on the first day.   This success would later inspire the U.S. Post Office to issue more stamps with postal themes, such as the 1963 City Mail Delivery stamp, the 1971 USPS logo stamp, and the 1974 Postal Service Employees set.

U.S. #1489-98 FDC – Postal Service Employees Classic First Day Cover.

The post office itself wasn’t quite as successful. It turned out it wasn’t processing the mail fast enough for the area, with some machines not being used to their full potential and others not being used at all. Plus, the employees also didn’t get fully trained for some of the machines, leading them to malfunction. In spite of this, the Post Office continued to experiment with automation, leading several other cities to adopt similar technology.

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  1. I normally don’t comment, however, the final paragraph in this article is very misleading. Unless you worked within processing in the Postal Service, you could come away with the thought that the mechanization mentioned was not all that successful and was only tried in a few places. That was hardly the case as processing facilities across the nation became mechanized and eventually automated. The last paragraph was a disservice to the USPS, and disappointing for one of your usual readers who appreciates this daily posts.

  2. I worked for the PO many years at different jobs back to the 1960’s when much of the sorting and routing of mail was done by hand. Often this was tedious work and very time consuming. I worked at the then-famous (maybe infamous) Rincon Annex main post office in San Francisco. We were not early in the mechanization change and when I left to be drafted into the Army at the end of 1965 mechanization was only beginning. I returned to working at the PO in the early 1970’s but worked only sporadically and usually doing hand casing of local mail. I held other jobs at the PO for many years and observed that most of the mechanization jobs were filled by persons intrested in career jobs which seemed right. Later I was a city carrier and worked at the postal data center–some real automation there. I did a couple of more holiday helper jobs a few Christmases when they still had need of those jobs. When I retired from working at the US Treasury Department I had accumulated almost 10 years of Post Office credit on my retirement sheet, and I must say I liked most of my jobs. I just wish I could have been in on the mechanization. Maybe it would have become my career job. Thanks for this rundown you gave of the PO’s attempt to mechanize.

  3. It is obvious that eventually, mechanization and automation of the postal industry was and is a success. However, not withstanding the comments of others, the Smithsonian’s comments regarding the success and failure of the Providence, Rhode Island facility seems to recap it adequately.

    “A 1962 report to Congress revealed that the project was not adequately processing mail for the area. A number of machines were not being used to their full potential, while several had not been put to use at all. Employees had not received adequate training to operate the machines, which led to malfunctions and equipment failures. A year earlier, the “Washington Post” reported that a US House subcommittee had concluded that Project Turnkey “failed miserably.”¹The Turkey project, created by Arthur Summerfield, one of the Department’s most forward looking Postmasters General, was greatly criticized by his successor, J. Edward Day. Postmaster General Day suggested that project’s name “might be rendered more appropriate by knocking out the “n” in turnkey.”² ”


    1) Brief Summary – The Post Office Department’s first 100 days under Postmaster General J. Edward Day.

    2) George Dixon, “Washington Scene: The Stamp of Mr. Day,” The Washingotn Post Times Herald, February 14, 1961, A13.

    Written by Nancy Pope and Daniel Piazza
    October 2010″

  4. Don’t know how many people have signed up and use MyUSPS, but that’s been a very interesting use of PO technology. When a piece of mail or package being sent to you with a tracking ID hits the system, you get a notification by text msg. Been available about a year or so. Recently was updated to add INFORMED. With a mobile app, get actual scans of the 1st class mail coming to you in addition to the package/tracking notification.

    May have been some early stumbles, but up and running with it now.

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