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Dayton Postmen Say Atlas Had Easy Job

This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, January 15, 1928


Dayton Postmen Say Atlas Had Easy Job

By Howard Burba


            Now that postmen here and elsewhere are beginning to get the bends out of their backs and pains out of their necks it is interesting to reflect on just what that branch of governmental service to which they are attached does toward keeping us a great nation.

            Ordinarily, the postman’s job looks easy.  As the general public see him, his most valuable endowment is an active and tireless pair of legs and the ability to smile when ice-cold rains have caused tiny icicles to form on his chin, or when a sweltering sun makes his undershirt stick closer than the proverbial brother.

            For 11 months in the year, as the general public see him, he is a petted and pampered protege of the wealthiest old gentleman in the world, Uncle Sam.  During the four weeks of the 12th month, however, the public is too busy spreading a thin veneer of peace and good-will over the earth to recall that such a personage as the postman exists.  No one seems to pause long enough to realize that sufficient grief comes into the life of a postman in the four weeks of December to take a vast part of the sunshine out of it during the remainder of the year.

            In explanation of this it is going to be necessary to indulge in a few recently gathered statistics.  And to fully appreciate these statistics it is going to be necessary for you to understand, right in the beginning, that they have been compiled by the postoffice department-the greatest business institution in the known world.

            It would not be impressive, however, if we dealt solely with the various units of the postal system in compiling our statistics.  You wouldn’t be interested in the inside workings of the postoffice at Raspberry, Ark., which did a gross business last year of $8.65, nor of the one at Chambers, Ga., which set a still lower record by transacting just $8.45 cents worth of business during the entire 12 months of 1927.  You probably are no different than the average American in that you want to know what the “whole outfit” is doing, all the way from Raspberry and Chambers to New York and Dayton.

            To get started right on the subject you must be able to visualize as many as 5,000,000 pieces of mail being dropped into the various receptacles throughout the United States during a single hour.  For that was the approximate number of pieces mailed every hour in the United States during the two weeks immediately preceding Christmas Day.  That means that during the single hour in which postmasters were delivering 5,000,000 pieces of mail the patrons of the postoffice department were mailing an equal number of pieces to be distributed and delivered during the next hour.  Now you are commencing to understand why the month of January usually finds a postman going over his route with his shoulders hunched as old man Atlas never had to hunch his when he lifted the world to his shoulders.

            Scattered throughout the United States is a vast army of postal employes capable of getting out from under this 5,000,000 pieces of mail dropped into the chute every hour.  IN fact, there are over 300,000 of them, far more than the population of the entire state of Arizona.  These men are divided into two classifications-the ones who gather the mail from the public and get it to the trains, and the ones who take it from the trains and distribute it to the public.  Constant changes in population, in the volume of mail business and in the habits of the people serve to keep the postal department continually working to meet new situations.

            That conditions in the department change with population is evidenced here in our own city of Dayton.  During the year ending Dec. 31 last, just a fort-night ago, the actual business transacted at the Dayton postoffice showed a financial increase of 4.24 per cent over the previous year.  Dayton’s population shows a similar gain for the same period.  So while Dayton is growing it is absolutely necessary for the postoffice to grow with it. 

            Perhaps you can understand this growth in Dayton’s postal business more clearly if a few figures are indulged in.  And they serve a double purpose in that they also reveal Dayton’s steady growth in population.

            During the past 12 months the greatest volume of business transacted at the Dayton postoffice in any single month was, or course, during December.  In 1926 it amounted to

$2,250,964.35.  During the December just passed the total amounted to $2,346,491.75.  July and August were the two dull months of the year, when business in all lines is at its lowest ebb and when a vast percentage of our population is enjoying the vacation season.  Even then the volume ran up to $169,628.92 in July and $166,767.83 in August.  But with a gain of $95,527.35 this Christmas over the preceding holiday we have our barometer of the city’s population growth.

            Every hour of every 24 hours in the day, the American people drop into 50,266 postoffices, 260,000 street boxes, 50,000 mail chutes and other points of contact approximately 3,000,000 pieces of mail.  This is 72,000,000 pieces every day, or 26,400,000,000 pieces every year.  In actual weight, this means that our people are sending out 400 tons of mail every hour, 9,400 tons every day, or 3,424,645 tons of mail a year.  You’ve a chance to do a little interesting figuring here, if you like.  Granting that the average length of each piece of mail is eight inches-and the government accepts that as a conservative estimate-then the 72,000,000 pieces mailed during any one day would reach a distance of 9000 miles.  That is to say, there is enough mail matter deposited for transmission in the United States every day to reach three times across the continent from New Your to San Francisco.

            Taking the volume of business done at the Dayton office in 1926 and 1927, we find these interesting comparisons:


                      INCOMING SECTION

                                                    1926                              1927

Registers accepted at main office    4,785                           4,952

Registers delivered......................... 5,409                          5,337

C. O. D.’s delivered main office.       1,804                           1,864

Large parcels delivered.................49,229                          56,903

Sacks received..............................16,950                        17,903

Pouches received............................1,674                          1,877


                     OUTGOING SECTION

Letters cancelled..................................2,369,900          2,553,600

Pouches dispatched....................................1,937                2, 260

Sacks dispatched main office......................7,870                  8,064

Sacks dispatched P. P. station..................19,180                21,980

Insured parcels accepted...........................34,000                32,500

C. O. D.’s accepted....................................11,365              13,400

First-class metered mail accepted               57,893               65,813


Let it not be forgotten that this torrent of mail pours into the postoffice in a bewildering confusion-packages, letters, postcards and all jumbled together in one great mass.  The highly perfumed envelope bearing a love message alongside the banker’s notice that your account has been sadly overdrawn.  The message announcing the departure of a dearly beloved relative rides in the same mail pouch with the little flowered birth announcement card.  And the same kind of stamp used to carry notice of a divorce decree is also used to send a wedding announcement.  Yet, so skilled are Uncle Sam’s 3000,000 employes that their nimble fingers fling them into their proper places like a flash of lightning, and send them on their way with a speed in keeping.  Each successive jumble is sorted and dispatched within two hours after it reaches the postoffice in the ordinary American city.


            There are 4548 first and second-class postoffices, employing 82,593 regular clerks, substitute clerks, supervisors and laborers.  During the holiday rush, of course, many thousand extra men are employed.  In Dayton the postoffice payroll is swelled by some 160 additional names during December.

            As soon as that jumble of mail finds its way into the postoffice every two hours the clerks untangle the mixture, cancel the stamps, scrutinize the permit and metered mail and arrange it all in geographic order so that it can be dispatched to the various cities and towns to which it is addressed.

            Just how many separate groupings into which this mail is to be worked for dispatch is determined by the staff of the railway mail service.  They formulate the scheme of dispatch which the clerks in the postoffices must follow.  In some cases the postoffice simply works it to states, to big cities or to specific trains, leaving it to the men on the trains to work it still “finer” as the trains speed over the rails.  In other cases the clerks work it not only to the trains but to the various places on the lines.

            Of course mail dropped for Dayotn delivery must at one be separated from that destined for delivery outside the city.  This done, it must be worked into routes, so that the different carriers, or postmen, can secure it without delay when they report for duty at 7 a. m.

            We see an interesting part of the inside work of our postal system when we peer back of the little glass doors of the lock boxes.  But we are not, as a rule, privileged to visualize the romantic side of this great institution-the railway mail delivery.  In this branch of the service alone 21,992 men are constantly employed, traveling a total of 2,250,000 miles a day.

            About the best we see is a huge pile of canvas sacks, stacked on a truck and paralleling a track upon which a mail train is soon due to arrive.  And while they represent to us merely a collection of canvas sacks, they are surrounded by an atmosphere of romance, for we can conjure up many pictures while speculating on their contents.  Even the canvas sack plays an important role in our postal system, and although many attempts have been made to devise better containers, nothing more suitable has yet been produced.

            The postoffice department has a mail bag factory at Washington where it manufacturers 1,250,000 bags and repairs 3,000,000 more every year.  If you are interested in making a few more mathematical comparisons we may state that the 14,000,000 canvas bags owned by the department would, placed end to end, reach from Boston to San Francisco and return.  Piled empty, one on top of another, they would reach 100 miles into the sky-if the pile could by some means be prevented from toppling over.

            Naturally the largest business done by any American postoffice is that of the New York city office.  It had receipts of $72,699,907 last year, while Chicago, ranking second, boasted receipts of $61,249,744.  Any comment as to the mail-order catalogue in connection with Chicago’s mail figures must come from some other source.

            A pretty clear idea of the magnitude of our postal department can be gained from last year’s revenues.  They were over $683,000,000 for the entire country and its possessions.  During the year postal clerks issued money orders totalling $1,653,657,554, and other clerks handled just 25,000,000,000-better repeat that for it is in billions-pieces of mail in the single 12 months.

            Now if you will multiply the daily average of mail for an ordinary month by four you will get a fair idea of why the mail man is not the happiest of all men during the month of December.  You will understand, too, when you have read these figures and secured a fair idea of the weight he is called upon to bear why Atlas was a piker alongside him when it came to “toting” burdens.

            December may mean happiness for the rest of the world, but it’s tragedy for the postmen.  And yet it is difficult to find a more faithful body of men, or me as uncomplaining.  As regular as your clock, regardless of the elements, they are at your door with their delivery.  The president of the United Sates might be the city’s guest, and all Dayton might turn out to receive him.  But there would be no mail men in the audience if the event clashed with their working schedule.

            Time changes everything save the regularity of the postman and his ability to cover his route with a promptness that has set the whole world an example.  He is but a cog in the biggest business machine in the world, and yet the moment he ceases to function with the same degree of faithfulness and regularity that has stamped his profession in the past, that business is going into a serious decline.

            There has been a lot of loose talk about heroes, and a lot of “blah” about old man Atlas lifting the world to his shoulders.

            What’s the big idea in overlooking the postman?