I had so much fun when my kids and I visited Washington, D.C., and visited the National Postal Museum, so I was excited to read a review copy of Who’s Got Mail?: The History of Mail in America by Linda Barrett Osborne (Abrams Books, May 2023). This middle-grade nonfiction book covers the details of the history and significance of mail services in the U.S., from before the founding of the country until today.
The first few chapters follow a timeline structure to the development of the postal services as they are today, beginning with details about mail delivery before the U.S. was even a nation. I was shocked at what I learned about national mail services before and during the Civil War. For example, some mail departments in the South refused to deliver any anti-slavery materials! Also, the effect of the Pony Express (which always seemed to be an emphasized part of American history) was just a footnote in the expansive history of mail services.
The history of U.S. postal services has some memorable facts. I loved the silly stories, such as the mailing of children. I hadn’t known any of the facts about the development of mail services from the early years into the governmental establishment of zip codes and the USPS in 1971. It is amazing to read how quickly mail became such an integral part of American culture in the 1960s. There was such an increase in mail volume that some post offices had to close for a time in order to catch up with all the overflowing mail.
Other chapters in the book talked about specific issues in mail service, including significant people working in various post offices throughout history and some of the unfortunate racist policies of post offices through even modern years. These chapters were simply not as interesting to me as the more story-focused history chapters had been. As a part of the history of the postal system, it was an important addition, but the book seemed to lose its momentum as the history book turned into more of a reference book.
The ending chapter and the epilogue do discuss the major difficulties that the USPS faces to this day and possible solutions to those issues. Although personal mail delivery has largely been replaced by digital communications, I hope that the difficulties that the USPS faces will be resolved so we can still enjoy the traditional delivery of mail that feels like receiving a “hug” when we open that envelope.
Who’s Got Mail? would be a useful reference for anyone studying the history of U.S. mail services, or anyone interested in how American history had an effect on the seemingly ordinary aspect of life that is mail delivery. Stamp collectors would also enjoy this glimpse into the USPS’s history.
I enjoyed reading this so soon after reading and reviewing Sallie Bee Writes a Thank-You Note, which reminded me how much physical mail can make someone’s day!
Note: I read a digital review copy.