History of Mail
In the present days of speedy communication, it is hard to imagine the rudimentary and time-consuming ways in which mail was created and delivered in the past. Historians credit the Egyptians with the use of the first organized courier service, dating back to 2400 B.C. The Pharaohs would disseminate decrees in order to keep their subjects in line. The days of oral communication had passed and they needed to rely on much more trustworthy ways to get their messages out to the public.
Although the Egyptian Pharaohs knew how to get their laws distributed to the masses, it wasn’t until much later that a real postal system was invented. Historians argue about this, but the best documented claim attributes the invention to Cyrus the Great in 550 B.C. Figuring out how far a horse could travel in one day, Cyrus had workers build a series of posting stations across his empire. Each station was one day's ride apart. The system ensured the efficient flow of information between him and his satraps, appointed leaders who governed his provinces. Other Assyrian leaders such as Cyrus’ successor Darius I of Persia, and earlier rulers Hammurabi and Sargon II, are also credited by some with inventing a postal service, although the latter two may have used it primarily for intelligence gathering and taxation.
Later, got into the act during the time of the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C. - 207 B.C.), where the country enjoyed an organized postal infrastructure. This system may have had its roots in the earlier Zhou Dynasty (1122 B.C.-256 B.C.), as evidenced by Confucius’ words. The great thinker once said, “News of deeds travels faster than the mail.” Whenever China’s mail delivery system started, it claims title to the world’s oldest continuously operating mail service. What China uses today is quite comparable to what was utilized during the Qin Dynasty.
Our postal service today is remarkably similar to that of Rome during the reign of Augustus Caesar (62 B.C.-14 A.D.). The system, called cursus publicus, used carriages and fast horses, while another slower service relied on two-wheel carts pulled by oxen. At first, the service was reserved for government use only, with the public being granted the convenience later. The Latin word for mail, posta, derives from the name of the stations where mail was distributed. Posta means place of rest. Messengers would rest at the stations before going on their routes.
Besides horses and oxen, other postal services around the world have employed homing pigeons, dogsleds, balloons, rockets, mules, pneumatic tubes, and even submarines. Today, our postal systems are much more advanced, but owe their success to the early beginnings of mail service.