The Mail Used To Arrive 12 Times A Day

The Mail Used To Arrive 12 Times A Day


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We've been making jokes for decades about how pathetic and outdated letter writing is compared to email. Those jokes are so old that email has now itself become a bit of an old-fashioned medium, while people looking to communicate casually stick to social media reaction GIFs. (Sorry, we have just been informed that kids now also consider social media reaction GIFs something only old people use.) 

Anyway, we all agree that physical letter writing is a hilariously slow way of getting info. Inventor Samuel Morse even missed his wife's funeral because the news took so long to reach him via letter, and this tragedy may have put him on the road toward developing the telegraph.

But the postal service wasn't always quite as slow as you're picturing. In fact, if you lived in a big city, it used to work a lot faster than it does now. In 1889, in London, the postman would pass by your house 12 times every day. He'd make his first round at 7:30am or so, and he'd come by again every hour, delivering any new mail that may have arrived for you in the meantime.

This meant it was totally practical to write to someone elsewhere in the city and expect a response within the day, a response you could reply to again before the day was out. Senders wrote the phrase "return of post" on their letters to say you were expected to have your quick response written by the next postal slot, in only an hour. We usually don't demand that sort of quick turnaround even with email (though it's possible with email, of course). 

You might say this was the golden age of the postal service. A little earlier within the same century, the system was much less developed and a whole lot more expensive. The recipient, not the sender, had to pay the postage due. The cost of receiving a letter? About a day's wages. Each delivery was a big deal. So, not too many people would message each other simply saying "u up?" but people did send lengthy letters ... and they'd sometimes forward entire newspapers to each other, the first recorded way new media tried to cheat the news industry. 

For more on the history of the mail, see also:

Mailmen Really Did Use To Deliver Babies

5 Disturbing Origins Of Everyday Technology

4 Everyday Things That Caused Huge Panics When They Were New

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Top image: Illustrated London News

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