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.

Equines carrying mail
Trusty mail carriers hoofing it down the Grand Canyon.

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.

The entrance to SubTropolis
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.

Angry dog snarling at camera
Postal workers, beware.

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.

Wayfair’s Fourth of July Clearance Sale Takes Up to 60 Percent Off Grills and Outdoor Furniture

Wayfair/Weber
Wayfair/Weber

This Fourth of July, Wayfair is making sure you can turn your backyard into an oasis while keeping your bank account intact with a clearance sale that features savings of up to 60 percent on essentials like chairs, hammocks, games, and grills. Take a look at some of the highlights below.

Outdoor Furniture

Brisbane bench from Wayfair
Brisbane/Wayfair

- Jericho 9-Foot Market Umbrella $92 (Save 15 percent)
- Woodstock Patio Chairs (Set of Two) $310 (Save 54 percent)
- Brisbane Wooden Storage Bench $243 (Save 62 percent)
- Kordell Nine-Piece Rattan Sectional Seating Group with Cushions $1800 (Save 27 percent)
- Nelsonville 12-Piece Multiple Chairs Seating Group $1860 (Save 56 percent)
- Collingswood Three-Piece Seating Group with Cushions $410 (Save 33 percent)

Grills and Accessories

Dyna-Glo electric smoker.
Dyna-Glo/Wayfair

- Spirit® II E-310 Gas Grill $479 (Save 17 percent)
- Portable Three-Burner Propane Gas Grill $104 (Save 20 percent)
- Digital Bluetooth Electric Smoker $224 (Save 25 percent)
- Cuisinart Grilling Tool Set $38 (Save 5 percent)

Outdoor games

American flag cornhole game.
GoSports

- American Flag Cornhole Board $57 (Save 19 percent)
- Giant Four in a Row Game $30 (Save 6 percent)
- Giant Jenga Game $119 (Save 30 percent)

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

17 Facts About Airplane! On Its 40th Anniversary

Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Julie Hagerty and Robert Hays (with Otto) in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Shot on a budget of $3.5 million, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker wrote and directed Airplane!, a movie intended to parody the onslaught of disaster movies that graced movie theater screens in the 1970s. The comedy classic, which arrived in theaters on July 2, 1980, ended up making more than $83.4 million in theaters in the United States alone, and resurrecting a few acting careers in the process. Here are some things you might not have known about the comedy classic on its 40th anniversary.

1. Airplane! was almost a direct parody of the 1957 movie Zero Hour!

Shorewood, Wisconsin childhood friends Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker grew up and moved to Los Angeles, where they were responsible for the sketch comedy troupe Kentucky Fried Theater. The trio made a habit of recording late-night television, looking for commercials to make fun of for their video and film parodies, which is how they discovered Zero Hour!, which also featured a protagonist named Ted Stryker (in Airplane! it's Ted Striker). In order to make sure the camera angles and lighting on Airplane! were matching those of Zero Hour!, the trio always had the movie queued up on set. Yes, the three filmmakers did buy the rights to their semi source material.

2. Universal thought Airplane! was too similar to their Airport franchise.

Universal released four plane disaster movies in the seventies: Airport in 1970; Airport 1975 (confusingly in 1974); Airport ‘77; and The Concorde ... Airport ‘79. Helen Reddy portrayed Sister Ruth in Airport 1975 and was game to play Sister Angelina in Airplane! before Universal stepped in and threatened to sue. Instead, the role went to Maureen McGovern, who sang the Oscar-winning theme songs to The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno—two movies that were also “disaster” movies, albeit ones not involving a plane.

3. David Letterman, Sigourney Weaver, and other future stars auditioned for Airplane!

In early conversations regarding Airplane!, Paramount Studios suggested Dom DeLuise for what would eventually become Leslie Nielsen’s role, and Barry Manilow for the role of Ted Striker, but they were never asked to audition.

4. Chevy Chase was mistakenly announced as the star of Airplane!.

Chevy Chase was erroneously announced as the star of Airplane! in a 1979 news item in The Hollywood Reporter.

5. The role of Roger Murdock was written with Pete Rose in mind.

Pete Rose was busy playing baseball when Airplane! was shot in August, so they cast Kareem Abdul-Jabbar instead.

6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got a pretty swanky carpet out of his Airplane! gig.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Peter Graves, and Rossie Harris in Airplane! (1980)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Rossie Harris, and Peter Graves in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s agent insisted on an extra $5000 to the original offer of a $30,000 salary so that the basketball legend could purchase an oriental rug he'd had his eye on.

7. Peter Graves thought the Airplane! script was "tasteless trash."

Peter Graves eventually found the humor in the film, including the pedophilia jokes, and agreed to play Captain Oveur. Graves's wife was glad he took the role; she laughed throughout the premiere screening.

8. No, the child actor playing young Joey didn't know what Peter Graves was actually saying.

Rossie Harris was only 9 years old when he played the role of Joey, so did not understand the humor in Turkish prisons, gladiator movies, or any of Oveur’s other comments. But by the time he turned 10 and saw the movie, Harris had apparently figured it out.

9. Airplane! marked Ethel Merman's final film appearance.

"The undisputed First Lady of the musical comedy stage” played a disturbed soldier who believed he was Ethel Merman. Merman passed away in 1984.

10. Michael Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul was in Airplane!.

Jonathan Banks plays air traffic controller Gunderson.

11. Airplane!'s three-director setup caused legal problems.

The Directors Guild of America ruled that Abrahams and the two Zuckers couldn’t all be credited for directing a movie, nor be credited under the single “fictitious name of Abrahams N. Zuckers.” A DGA rep was on set to make sure that only Jerry Zucker spoke to the actors. What he saw was Jerry Zucker next to the camera, who would then go to a nearby trailer where the other two were watching the takes on a video feed, and come back to give notes to the actors after conferring with his partners. A DGA executive board eventually gave the three one-time rights to all share the credit.

12. A BIT ABOUT BLIND POLISH AIRLINE PILOTS WAS WRITTEN AND FILMED.

Blind singer José Feliciano, and lookalikes of blind singers Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder, played Polish airline co-pilots. The Polish-American League protested, and it was determined by the writer-directors that the idea wasn’t funny enough to stay in the movie.

13. Robert Hays was starring in a TV show at the same time he was filming Airplane!

Robert Hays, the actor who played Ted Striker, had to race back and forth between the sets of Angie and Airplane! for two very busy weeks. The theme song to Angie was performed by the one and only Maureen McGovern.

14. Robert Hays was—and is—a licensed pilot.

He can even fly the ones with four engines.

15. Leslie Nielsen had a lot of fun with his fart machine.

Leslie Nielsen sold portable fart machines for $7 apiece on set, causing a brief epidemic of fart noises emanating from most of the cast and crew and delaying production. When they were shooting Hays’s close-up, Nielsen used the machine after every other word of his line, “Mr. Striker, can you land this plane?”

16. Stephen Stucker came up with all of Johnny's lines.

Lloyd Bridges and Stephen Stucker in Airplane! (1980)
Stephen Stucker and Lloyd Bridges in Airplane! (1980).
Paramount Home Entertainment

Stephen Stucker was a member of the Kentucky Fried Theater. His line “Me John, Big Tree” was part of an old riff he used to do, which continued with him going down on his knees and putting an ear to the ground to hear when a wagon train was arriving.

17. The original rough cut of Airplane! was 115 minutes long.

After screenings at three college campuses and two theaters, the film was cut down to 88 minutes.