12 Things You Should Know About the United States Postal Service

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Snail mail doesn’t sound thrilling, but the United States Postal Service is anything but boring. USPS workers serve some of the most far-flung places in the country and process more than 400 million pieces of mail each day—including hundreds of thousands of letters to Santa each year. Here are a few facts about the letter carriers in your life.

1. The United States Postal Service was created via a constitutional amendment.

Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first Postmaster General in 1775. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1789, Article I, Section 8, Clause 7 gave Congress the ability to “establish post offices and post roads.” In 1792, President George Washington signed the Postal Service Act, creating the Post Office Department. Nearly two centuries later, the United States Postal Service as we know it was created. Today, the USPS employs more than 7.3 million people.

2. Some United States Postal Service mail is delivered by mule.

Trusty mail carriers hoofing it down the Grand Canyon.Elf, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

How do you get mail to the bottom of the Grand Canyon? By enlisting the help of mules. Every day, mule trains deliver about 4000 pounds of mail, food, supplies, and furniture to the village of Supai. The local Havasupai tribe receives its mail after an 8-mile journey by 50 horses and mules. Since so much of the mail is perishable, the post office where this route originates in Peach Springs, Arizona, has walk-in freezers.

3. The USPS also uses postal boats.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, a 45-foot mail boat, the J.W. Westcott II, has a contract to deliver mail to passing ships sailing on the Detroit River. Legally, the postal service has to deliver mail to all Americans, even those aboard ships. The mail boat pulls alongside larger vessels, which lower down a bucket on a rope that can be filled with correspondence—the custom is known as “mail in the pail.” The boat even has its own special ZIP code: 48222.

The Detroit River isn’t the only place where you can receive your mail by boat. In Alabama’s Magnolia River, 176 homes on the 31-mile route receive their deliveries from a 15-foot boat that pulls right up to fixed mailboxes on their docks.

4. The longest United States Postal Service mail route is more than 190 miles.

Sidney, Montana, boasts an unusual claim to fame: The remote town has the longest rural delivery mail route. The mail carrier travels a whopping 190.7 miles.

5. The shortest USPS rural mail route is under 3 miles.

Not every carrier is piling up the daily mileage. The mail carrier in Parker, Colorado, has it relatively easy, only traveling 2.3 miles each day. The USPS says its shortest rural delivery route is Carrollton, Texas, a job that requires just 1.2 miles of daily travel.

6. The United States Postal Service has its own stamp cave.

Some of the most valuable stamps in the country are housed within SubTropolis.Americasroof, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Need a stamp? Try looking in SubTropolis, a sprawling excavated limestone mine in Kansas City. Many companies operate out of the underground industrial park, and the USPS has gotten in on the act. The temperature and humidity level 150 feet underground make it an ideal hub for stamp storage and distribution.

7. The USPS also has a facility to decipher terrible handwriting.

Ever wonder how the USPS decodes awful penmanship? It calls in the experts. The Remote Encoding Center in Salt Lake City receives the system’s impossible-to-read mail. The center’s 1000 workers there take on every piece of mail that’s too challenging for the automated mail sorters to decipher or is otherwise incorrectly addressed. According a 2013 Deseret News report, these workers can translate a scribbled envelope into legible, usable delivery information in an average of four seconds.

8. United States Postal Service mailboxes weren’t always blue.

The postal service began painting its street mailboxes blue in 1971 [PDF], when it made the structural switch from the Post Office Department to the United States Postal Service. The color of boxes had varied in the century before that, including a stint in drab olive green after World War I thanks to a surplus of paint in that color.

9. The current postmaster general of the USPS started as a letter carrier.

In February 2015, Megan J. Brennan became the first female postmaster general in the United States. She rose up through the postal ranks, starting with a job as a letter carrier in 1986.

10. Dog attacks actually happen to workers for the United States Postal Service.

Postal workers, beware.Stebunik, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

Dogs actually do attack USPS workers. In 2014, dogs attacked 5767 postal employees. Los Angeles was the biggest hotbed of canine attacks, with 74 mail carriers incurring pets’ wrath. Mail carriers are instructed to keep their satchels between their bodies and an aggressive dog, using the sack of mail as a buffer.

Dogs aren’t the only animals mail carriers have to worry about: Wasps have been known to build nests inside mailboxes.

11. The United States Postal Service helps crack criminal cases.

The USPS is skilled at catching criminals in the act. In 2013, law enforcement seized 46,000 pounds of narcotics from the mail and identified 778 criminals from fingerprints and other physical evidence found in mail.

12. Famous figures like Walt Disney and Steve Carell had mail service jobs.

Before they became household names, some political, literary, and TV greats had postal jobs. A 16-year-old Walt Disney was a mail carrier in 1918. William Faulkner served as the University of Mississippi’s postmaster from 1922 to 1924—he hated the job, and resigned after a postal inspector was sent to investigate complaints filed against him. In more recent history, comedic actor Steve Carell worked a rural mail route in Massachusetts.

Celebrate the Holidays With the 2020 Harry Potter Funko Pop Advent Calendar

Funko
Funko

Though the main book series and movie franchise are long over, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter remains in the spotlight as one of the most popular properties in pop-culture. The folks at Funko definitely know this, and every year the company releases a new Advent calendar based on the popular series so fans can count down to the holidays with their favorite characters.

SIGN UP TODAY: Get exclusive deals, product news, reviews and more with the Mental Floss Smart Shopping Newsletter!

Right now, you can pre-order the 2020 edition of Funko's popular Harry Potter Advent calendar, and if you do it through Amazon, you'll even get it on sale for 33 percent off, bringing the price down from $60 to just $40.

Funko Pop!/Amazon

Over the course of the holiday season, the Advent calendar allows you to count down the days until Christmas, starting on December 1, by opening one of the tiny, numbered doors on the appropriate day. Each door is filled with a surprise Pocket Pop! figurine—but outside of the trio of Harry, Hermione, and Ron, the company isn't revealing who you'll be getting just yet.

Calendars will start shipping on October 15, but if you want a head start, go to Amazon to pre-order yours at a discount.

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

17 Scary Sayings for 'Ghost' From Across the United States

Remains/iStock via Getty Images Plus
Remains/iStock via Getty Images Plus

On Halloween, the spirits of the dead are supposed to walk the earth with the living. Whether or not you believe that, or in ghosts in general, you might want to know what you’re getting into if you hear a South Carolina native mention a plat-eye or a Maine resident warn you about swogons. Familiarize yourself with these U.S. regional slang terms for familiar spirits from the Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE).

1. Skookum

Referring to a ghost, demon, or spirit, skookum is chiefly a Northwest term and comes from a language of the Chinook Native American peoples of the Pacific Northwest. In the Northwest and Alaska, skookum as an adjective means strong, powerful, or good, while a skookum house is a jail and a skookum chuck is a turbulent channel of water.

2. Tommyknocker

More than just a Stephen King novel, tommyknocker has been used in the West since at least the early 20th century to mean a ghost that lives in a mine. It also refers to the knocking noises that said ghost is supposed to make. This ghost sense comes from the English dialect word tommyknocker meaning a “hammer used to break ore."

3. Haunt

In the South and South Midland states, a haunt or hant is a ghost or spirit. The earliest definitions of haunt weren’t ghostly at all: According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the word originated in the 13th century to mean to practice habitually or to frequent a place. Around 1576, it gained the figurative meaning of memories, cares, feelings, thoughts, etc. that distract one frequently. In 1597, the term wandered into the supernatural. From Richard III: “Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed.” Almost 300 years later, it finally came to refer to a spirit or ghost.

4. And 5. Hot Hant or Hot Steam

You might run into a hot hant or hot steam in the Lower Mississippi Valley and southern Alabama. In Ben Burman’s 1938 book, Blow for a Landing, hot hants are hot because "they’ve gone to hell.” In To Kill a Mockingbird, a hot steam is described as “somebody who can’t get to heaven, just wallows around on lonesome roads an’ if you walk through him, when you die you’ll be one too.”

6. Bugaboo

This ghostly South and South Midland expression might also refer to an imaginary monster or the devil. In use since at least 1710, the OED says the word might come from the now obscure meaning of bug, an imaginary evil spirit (the insect meaning came later), and might also be influenced by boo. Also boogerboo and bugabo.

7. Booger

Careful if someone from the South or South Midland states says you have a booger—they could mean something more frightening than a piece of snot. The word originated in the 1750s to mean a despicable man, according to the OED, and came to mean a menacing supernatural creature in the 1820s (and dried nasal mucus in 1891).

8. Duppy

In Alabama and Louisiana, you might say duppy for ghost. According to DARE, the word comes from Bube, a Bantu language of West Africa. OED’s earliest citation in English is from British historian Edward Long’s 1774 book The History of Jamaica (“Those of deceased friends are duppies”), while DARE’s is from a 1919 issue of the Journal of American Folklore: “ … the ghost-story, the tale based on a belief about ‘hants’ or ‘bugies’ or ‘duppies.’”

9. Hide-Behind

Also high-behind and nigh-behind, this term refers to a ghost or imaginary creature that always hides behind some object. Henry Tryon’s 1939 book Fearsome Critters describes the hide-behind as a 6-foot-tall “highly dangerous animal” with “grizzly-like claws.” Conveniently enough, it’s “never known to attack an inebriate.” According to Vance Randolph’s 1951 We Always Lie to Strangers: Tall Tales from the Ozarks, the monster is “a lizard as big as a bull” that “lies in wait for human beings on the trails at night.”

10. Catawampus

An imaginary monster or hobgoblin in the South and South Midland states, the word also means fierce, unsparing, and destructive, according to the OED, and originated as a humorous formation, the first part of which might have been influenced by catamount, a puma or cougar.

11. Swogon

This Maine term for a spirit might come from Swamp Swogon as quoted in Holman Day’s Up in Maine: “For even in these days P.I.’s shake / At the great Swamp Swogon of Brassua Lake./ When it blitters and glabbers the long night through,/ And shrieks for the souls of the shivering crew.” Another Maine word, swogun (also spelled swagin, swagan, and other variations) refers to bean soup.

12. Akua

In Hawaii, an akua is a god, spirit, or supernatural being. The OED has atua, which it says is a Polynesian word with the same meaning.

13. Stepney

This expression is used among Gullah speakers on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. It could mean hunger or hard times, and may also be personified as a malevolent spirit. However, where the word comes from isn’t clear.

14. Plat-Eye

Careful of plat-eyes if you’re roaming around in South Carolina at night. These hobgoblins or malevolent spirits are said to rise out of graves. Platt-eye prowl refers to the time of night they’re said to roam.

15. Go-Devil

Another South Carolina expression, a go-devil is an evil spirit or someone made up to look like one. The term also refers to various machines and devices in agriculture, forestry, the oil industry, and logging.

16. HAG (OR HAG SPIRIT)

While commonly known as a witch, in the Southeast a hag or hag spirit might also refer to the evil spirit of a dead person. Said spirit is supposed to cause nightmares by “riding” the luckless dreamer. Hag-ridden, according to the OED, means afflicted by nightmares or oppressed in the mind.

17. RAWHEAD AND BLOODYBONES

In addition to being an excellent name for a death metal band, rawhead and bloodybones is a South and South Midland expression for a specter or hobgoblin. It’s an old term: DARE’s earliest citation in American English is from 1637, while in British English it's 1566, according to the OED. The rawhead part is terrifyingly and "typically imagined as having a head in the form of a skull, or one whose flesh has been stripped of its skin,” while bloodybones is sometimes described as a bogeyman who lurks in ponds “waiting to drown children.”