Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mr. ZIP

Fifty years ago, the Post Office was in trouble due to an overwhelming increase in business mail. Luckily, Mr. ZIP came to the rescue.

In 1963, the agency rolled out the Zone Improvement Plan, a five-digit code that helped the mail sorting process for delivery to specific locations. The Post Office introduced "Mr. ZIP", who disguised as a caricature of a friendly postal worker helped deliver the message to the public: Remember your ZIP!

Today every location in the United States has a nine-digit code. There's a total of 41,810 U. S. ZIP codes with the largest number in the state of California (three more than Texas). Rhode Island has the fewest ZIP codes at 90, (89 more than American Samoa). The average population per ZIP code is 7,348. Most Americans have no idea what their ZIP code means.

It's easy to discern important information using the ZIP code. Using the example 12345-6789, the first three number of the code (123 in the example) identifies the general region or city, while the next two numbers identify the delivery area: post office or neighborhood. The sixth and seventh numbers (67 in the example) indicates the sector or several blocks in a neighbor or delivery area.  The final two numbers identify a segment or one side of the street.

The most populous zip code is 79936, El Paso, TX with an estimated population of 116,860, followed by ZIP code 90011 Los Angeles, CA, population 105,740.  My former home town, Chicago, IL is the location of the third most populous ZIP code (60629), population estimated at 105,740. The three oldest ZIP codes have a median age of 87 years (17606 Lancaster, PA, 61112 Rockford, IL and 40049 Nerinx, KY).

The priciest ZIP code is 10065, Upper East Side, NYC, with a median home list price of $6,534,430 (based on information from the summer of 2012).

Today, the Postal Service uses the ZIP code translated into a bar code of small and large bars to sort millions of pieces of mail daily. The bar codes are processed by an optical character reader which sorts mail down to the carrier route in a delivery unit, even to the delivery box in your neighborhood. This improved the efficiency of sortation and allowed the organization to reduce cost by reducing its manpower need substantially. For example, when I entered the Chicago Post Office in April 1963 as a new employee, the office had 26,000 employees on the rolls. With the later advent of mechanization with Letter Sorting Machines, followed by automation, the mail processing work force in 1995 had been gradually reduced by roughly 20,000 employees. Since most of the organization's cost were largely center in salaries and benefits, this reduction helped to make the Postal Service more efficient.

Thank you, Mr. ZIP for your contribution to improved efficiency and Happy Fiftieth Birthday.

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