Monday, September 29, 2014

Return to Sender 10 Months Later?

By Rose Strong

Have you ever wished you could follow a letter from the time you sent it to the time it arrives in the mailbox of your intended recipient? It might be an interesting journey.

As a communications firm, Furia Rubel is ready quite early with our holiday cards and video greetings. We plan for them to go out in the mail about three weeks before the actual holiday.

Last year, our greetings were sent out on or about Dec. 9 from the Philadelphia postal hub. As happens with any mass mailing, some addressees are no longer at the address we have on file. We typically receive these cards back, investigate for the updated address, and resend. This process usually takes 10 to 14 days.

However, we recently received one of our 2013 holiday cards back, marked Return to Sender / Unable to Forward / Not Deliverable As Addressed - more than 250 days after it had been mailed.

Please indulge me as I give a quick and brief history lesson about the United States Postal Service. The organization began as the United States Post Office, a governmental agency first suggested by publisher William Goddard in 1774 as a way to get information out to citizens without the prying eyes of the British postal inspectors. The USPS began moving the mail on July 26, 1775, as approved by the Second Continental Congress. Benjamin Franklin was appointed its first postmaster general.

Upon the Postal Reorganization Act of 1970, the U.S. Postal Service functioned as a regular, tax-supported, agency of the federal government. Still an agency of the federal government today, in 1982 U.S. postage stamps became “postal products,” and the USPS now is funded solely by sales of stamps, shipping and other services.

As of this writing, there are more than 30,000 post offices, stations and branches throughout the United States to handle domestic mail. If you take a gander at the USPS website’s ‘About’ page, you can see the numbers regarding mail volume, the people involved, fleet of vehicles and the department’s yearly budget.  Here are just a few of the numbers, based on 2013 data, that I found interesting:
  • 152.9 million — total number of delivery points nationwide
  • 158.4 billion — number of mail pieces processed
  • 211,654 — number of vehicles — one of the largest civilian fleets in the world
  • 1.2 billion — number of miles driven each year by mail carriers and truck drivers
  • 38.8 million — number of address changes processed
  • If it were a private sector company, the U.S. Postal Service would rank 45th in the 2013 Fortune 500.
  • In the 2013 Global Fortune 500 list, the U.S. Postal Service ranked 140th.
From those fine facts, it can be concluded that the United States Postal Service is a colossal organization. So, one long lost letter in that sphere of people and mechanical processes shouldn’t be surprising.

I took our returned card to my local post office and asked the postmistress why it could have taken so long to come back to our office. She made a copy and said she’d pass it along to her regional office and see if they had an answer.

Checking in a few days later, the postmistress told me that there was no conclusive answer.

“It could have fallen off the belt in the sorting facility and gotten stuck, and someone found it when the machine jammed or they cleaned and just sent it along on its way,” she said.

Sometimes one doesn’t get answers to the mysteries they question. I guess that’s all there really is to Return to Sender - unless you’re an Elvis fan.

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