America’s First Postmaster: Benjamin Franklin, appointed 1775 July 26th

Post Office of Ben Franklin with two dogs waiting for delivery.

Franklin’s postal career began in 1737 when he was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia. Franklin used his position to increase the circulation of his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette, by allowing riders to carry it to subscribers. In 1753 after the death of Elliot Benger, the Postmaster General, Franklin was appointed Postmaster General of America, a post he shared with William Hunter.

During his employment he toured all the northern colonies to survey post roads and post offices establishing more efficient routes. He traveled a total of 1,600 miles. In order to improve delivery time he had riders carry mail during night and day.

Although Franklin did not invent it, he designed an odometer and attached it to the front wheel of the letter carriage, the odometer measured the number of revolutions of the wheel. Each revolution was counted by dials and by the end of the trip the mailman would know the distance traveled by multiplying the number of revolutions by the circumference of the wheel. That way Franklin determined which routes were the quickest. He determined postal rates based on distance and weight and were standardized for all colonies.  He also mandated the delivery of newspapers for a small fee. His improvements turned the American Post Offices profitable for the first time.

Franklin remained Postmaster General until 1774. After the Hutchinson Affair Franklin was judged too sympathetic to the colonies and was dismissed from his post.

In 1775 the newly established Continental Congress assumed the role of government of the colonies and was established in Philadelphia. Franklin had just returned from England and was appointed member of the Second Continental Congress. He was elected to head a committee to establish a postal system within the 13 colonies.  On July, 1775 he was appointed Postmaster General.

Back on American soil in 1775, Franklin was part of the Second Continental Congress and served on many committees, including one to establish an independent postal system. On July 26, 1775, the Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General of the organization now known as the United States Postal Service.

Franklin received an annual salary of $1,000 plus $340 for a secretary and comptroller. He was responsible for all Post Offices — from Massachusetts to Georgia — and had authority to hire as many postmasters as he saw fit.

In the summer of 1776, Franklin worked with the committee that created the Declaration of Independence. In the fall, he left for Paris to secure French support for the war with England. Franklin entrusted the General Post Office to his son-in-law,

Richard Bache, who was comptroller and his second in command. Benjamin Franklin’s tenure as Postmaster General officially ended when Bache was appointed Postmaster General on November 7, 1776.

In 1775, before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, the Continental Congress turned the Constitutional Post into the Post Office of the United States, whose operations became the first—and for many citizens, the most consequential—function of the new government itself.

No one man before him had ever done so much to draw the scattered colonies together.

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