|Saturday, January 05, 2013 3:07 AM|
It is hard to believe that we are starting our 20th year of operation. We never dreamed back then that we would be so fortunate to have our own building with such a variety of exhibits. But when we began the project of creating a museum dedicated to postal history back in 1993, one of our biggest challenges was to show people why such a museum was important. Obviously the Smithsonian Institution felt the importance since in July, 1995 they opened a multi-million dollar National Postal Museum adjacent to Union Station in Washington, DC. But how could people in this rural Ohio area find a connection to this concept? What could possibly be of interest in such a museum that would cause visitors to stop in Delphos, Ohio? The answer actually lies in the very fabric of our being – the need to develop technology and the intense desire to communicate. As you enter the museum today located at 339 N. Main Street, the first series of displays outlines in detail the substance of today’s article.
Let’s start this journey by looking back at the colonial era of America. Who better to connect with the development of technology and communication than the inventor and newspaper publisher Mr. Benjamin Franklin? After running away from his home in Boston in 1723, he settled in Philadelphia. Here in just a few years he had started his own print shop establishing himself both as a writer and businessman. In 1728 he purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette and began publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack in 1732.
In 1737, Franklin was appointed by the English Crown to be postmaster of Philadelphia. The most significant aspect of that appointment was that postmasters were able to determine which publications could travel through the mails and which newspapers could travel for free. This now allowed Franklin’s Gazette to travel through the mail since the former postmaster of Philadelphia owned a rival newspaper and had barred Franklin’s Gazette from the mail. Now you can see why many of the postmasters at that time were also newspaper publishers. To this very day, newspapers that travel through the mail do so at a reduced rate while affording them the most expedient delivery.
The Postmaster General of the colonies from 1743 – 1753 was a gentleman named Elliott Benger. Shortly after Franklin’s appointment, Benger gave him additional responsibilities as the Comptroller, which included financial oversight of neighboring post offices. In this capacity he developed a simple accounting system for postmasters to keep track of postal funds. On Aug. 10, 1753, Benjamin Franklin and William Hunter of Virginia became joint Postmasters General for the American Colonies.
Franklin began surveying roads and measuring distances between post offices. He had developed an odometer and attached it to the wheels of his carriage to determine the shortest routes in order to increase the speed of delivery between cities. He inspected roads and caused post riders to travel by both day and night. While serving as postmaster, he designed a piece of sorting equipment that is still used in post offices today. He referred to it has the pigeonhole case. It allowed for speedy separation of mail at each post office. Franklin also encouraged postmasters to publish in their newspapers, the names of individuals who had mail waiting for them at the post office.
As a joint Postmaster General, he incorporated an idea that was first done in England and served as the precursor to neighborhood delivery. If mail were not picked up at the post office in a timely manner, Franklin would deliver the mail to the recipient’s home for just a penny – thus coining the term penny post.
Over the next two decades Franklin traveled extensively to England to represent various colonial governments in dealing with the Crown. In 1774 Franklin was relieved of his duties as joint Postmaster General because of his strong allegiance to the colonies. This was most evident when he changed the manner in which he wrote the manuscript postmark on outgoing mail. Originally it read, “ Free B. Franklin” later he would write “B. Free Franklin.”
SAVE THE DATE: Our second annual Gala Celebration will be held at the museum on Feb. 17. By then everyone should be ready to get out and enjoy an evening of fine food and entertainment. Watch this column for more details about this wonderful evening. Last year we served 200 people and I believe most of them are looking forward to our next party. Festivities will begin with drinks around 5 p.m. with dinner and our program to follow.