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How to Save the Post Office for a Penny

September 12th, 2020 by dk

If Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is looking for ways to make the Postal Service more economically viable, he should read up on our first Postmaster General. Four decades before the American Revolution, Ben Franklin served as postmaster general — first for Philadelphia and then for all  of the colonies.

Under King George II, Franklin accepted the position with no salary unless the postal service earned a profit for the king. Franklin pushed the Postal Service into profitability not by cutting costs, but by expanding services.

Franklin lowered prices and expanded services to include all residents of the colonies. This sometimes required new roads to be built, but Franklin was convinced the service must be available to everyone. Others were crafting the words that shaped a nascent democracy. Franklin focused on the deeds.

Words and deeds met in the Postal Service Act of 1792. One of the nation’s first steps after independence was to give newspapers a discounted postal rate, expanding the viability of a free press. The same law protected privacy, stipulating punishments for opening anyone else’s mail.

It’s probably too late for newspapers to be given a deal that is similar to what Franklin crafted, though it could bring printed newspapers back from their current near-death experience. Would people read a newspaper that reflects on the day’s events when they get home from work, instead of turning to TV news for that?

I for one would love to see somebody try. It would create a different sort of reflective daily experience — separate from the non-stop, multi-tasking, over-hyphenated frenzy we call modern life. More importantly, it would make the mail uplifting again.

Almost nothing comes in the mail these days that produces any good feelings. Nobody circles the 5th of the month because that’s when their mortgage or power or cable bill arrives. Catalogs and junk mail fill our mailboxes, but they don’t bring joy. Like it or not, Amazon boxes are the most anticipated mail for most Americans.

Taking a page from Franklin’s playbook, here’s how DeJoy could reinsert the Postal Service back into people’s lives. Bring back the penny postcard. It would be a loss leader, but it would make people care about getting their mail again. Nobody will work hard to fix something that doesn’t matter to most people.

Imagine a world where you could send a quick note to anyone in America for a penny. Would that world not be better than the one we have? People would have new reasons to be kind and thoughtful to one another. Mail carriers would be everyday heroes again. Staff retention would improve. Training costs would decline.

Photographers, designers and gag writers would churn out picture postcards to celebrate every place and every day. America would knit itself back together again. Scrapbooks would make a comeback. Americans would begin thinking about what to save for grandchildren who have not yet been born.

We’ve pretended lately that the permanence of pen and paper isn’t necessary. We’re wrong. Where would we be if Franklin and 55 others hadn’t signed a declaration to direct and shape our future?


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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