Have you ever paused to ponder the story behind the seemingly ordinary ZIP Code?
The U.S. Postal Service introduced the “Zone Improvement Plan Code” or ZIP Code on July 1, 1963, to enhance mail delivery speed and precision. This was, however, not their first brush with zone-based mailing. As early as 1943, they’d devised postal zones for metropolitan areas, with a number placed after the city name but preceding the state, allowing for swifter delivery in bustling areas. An example? “Bilbo Baggins, 3421 Bagend, Hobbiton 27, Eriador” – where “27” pinpointed a specific locale in Hobbiton.
Robert Moon, a postal worker, in 1944 brought to the table a concept that would eventually reshape this system. His idea? The first trio of digits in a ZIP code would determine the sectional center facility, a regional cornerstone for mail distribution. Here’s the intriguing part: the initial digit symbolizes a group of U.S. states, with the subsequent two pinpointing a more specific zone. This concept was later enriched with two more digits to highlight the exact post office or delivery zone.
Flash forward to 1983, and the U.S. Postal Service showcased the ZIP+4 system. While the first five digits remained true to their original purpose, the four succeeding digits aimed to focus even more closely, delineating delivery sectors and segments within a post office’s jurisdiction. However, its adoption wasn’t universal. With modern mail processing using multi-line optical character readers, the actual ZIP+4 for any address is deduced efficiently. As these machines embed a Postnet barcode corresponding to the ZIP+4, adding it manually becomes redundant.
Shifting Focus From Numbers, There’s a Quirkier Side to This Narrative
To promote ZIP Code usage, the U.S. Postal Service gave birth to “Mr. ZIP,” an animated character. The premise? Get the younger audience to encourage their elders. Interestingly, the brain behind Mr. ZIP’s inception was Howard Wilcox, whose father was a mail carrier.
Fast forward to today, and terms like “ZIP code” have transcended beyond their origins, now finding usage in companies like UPS and FedEx without legal hitches. If you’re tech-savvy, tools in software like Microsoft Word even let you imprint the Postnet barcode directly onto your mail. Before its current moniker, USPS was once labeled USPOD (United States Post Office Department). Reflecting on its past reveals a captivating evolution: from manual mail handling to introducing the ZIP code system as an efficiency game-changer, only to soon embrace the advanced MLOCR technique.