Innovation behind what’s in your mailbox

(BPT) - The past century has seen technological advances no one anticipated. Take the simple act of sending mail. While the ability to send material to the next town or across the world has been around a long time, the methods have completely transformed. It once took days, weeks or months to receive a letter or package from afar, but now everyone expects to shop online one day and receive products the next.

How did this evolution happen?

The postal system spurs commerce

While the United States Postal Service was established in 1775, the first U.S. postage stamps weren't issued until 1847. When they were first used, there were concerns about stamp theft, and affixing them was not easy, as they required moistening.

At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, the USPS hosted an exhibition displaying its first picture postcards, along with the first event-commemorative stamps. By the century's end, mail was delivered using transportation methods including stagecoach, train and ship.

The turn of the century brought increased demands on the postal system as mail order catalogs, introduced by businesses in the second half of the 19th century, became commonplace. But businesses still found mailing and shipping cumbersome and inefficient. Most stamps were affixed one at a time!

Early innovations

Chicago inventor Arthur Pitney, a wallpaper salesman and expert on adhesives, attended the World’s Fair in Chicago. He left the fair inspired to rethink the postal process. To eliminate the labor of hand stamping business mail and to prevent stamp theft, Pitney invented the first postage meter, patented in 1902.

Meanwhile in 1908, Walter Bowes incorporated The Universal Stamping Machine Company, which sold canceling machines to the Post Office. These machines made it possible to mark stamps to prevent re-use. When Arthur Pitney and Walter Bowes collaborated to form The Pitney Bowes Postage Meter Company in 1920, they changed the future of business mail forever.

This year Pitney Bowes celebrates their 100th anniversary. It was Sept. 1, 1920, that the USPS formally approved the use of their postage meter, followed by the Posts in England and Canada two years later. Their improved product, built off Pitney’s original invention some twenty years earlier, the newly created Model A mailing machine expedited the process of business mailing, imprinting the postage amount and postmarking the date. For businesses, metered mail saved time and money while also providing accurate accounting and mailing records — something we may take for granted today, but a breakthrough in the early 1920s.

A century of change

The innovations kept coming. In 1939, Pitney Bowes, Inc. unveiled the “Mailomat,” a coin-operated postage meter and letter box. Recognizing small businesses as a growth engine of economy, the company developed the first affordable postage meter for small businesses in the early 1950s.

In 1951, Robert Pitney, Arthur’s son, was issued a patent for a remotely resettable meter. This invention would pave the way for later innovations, from Postage by Phone in 1979, to today’s ability to reset postage online.

Signaling the end of the old-fashioned postage stamp, the first self-adhesive stamps were invented in 1979. While the early version was unsuccessful, a better adhesive was invented in 1989, quickly replacing its predecessors.

The digital age

With the advent of the internet and email, traditional mail naturally declined. Then came the explosion of e-commerce, with customers everywhere ordering products online and expecting them to be delivered to their door.

This provided new opportunities for businesses focused on shipping solutions. For example, Pitney Bowes partnered with eBay, developing technology for eBay shippers to print their own Postal Service labels from their accounts.

In recent years, the company has created technologically advanced solutions so businesses can streamline their mail processing and shipping operations more efficiently than ever before. In 2017 the company launched an all-in-one machine for businesses to weigh mail, assess shipping options, print labels, sort and track a high volume of packages and letters quickly and accurately.

E-commerce shows no signs of slowing down. On Cyber Monday 2019, the company’s Global Carrier Services platform printed over one million labels in a single day. At this point it's hard to even predict where technology will lead business next.

To learn more about continual innovation at Pitney Bowes and its advances for mail and shipping over the last 100 years, visit PitneyBowes.com.

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