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The History of Mail

From Mary Bellis,
Your Guide to Inventors.
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The first envelopes were made of cloth, animal skins, or vegetable parts. The Babylonians wrapped their message in thin sheets of clay that were then baked.

Of Mice and Mail

In 1653, Frenchman, De Valayer established a postal system in Paris. He set up mail boxes and delivered any letters placed in them if they used envelopes that only he sold. An enemy put live mice into the letter boxes and ruined De Valayer's business.


A schoolmaster from England, Rowland Hill invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837, an act for which he was knighted. Through his efforts the first stamp in the world was issued in England in 1840. Hill created the first uniform postage rates that were based on weight, rather than size. Hill's stamps made the prepayment of postage both possible and practical. See - The History of Stamps

History of The United States Postal Office

A timeline of US postal history and mail innovations.

The First Mail Order Catalog

Aaron Montgomery Ward sent out his first mail order catalog in 1872 - for his Montgomery Ward mail order business located at Clark and Kinzie Streets in Chicago. The first catalog consisted of a single sheet of paper with a price list, 8 by 12 inches, showing the merchandise for sale with ordering instructions.

Montgomery Ward gradually expanded the catalog. They became bigger, more heavily illustrated, chock full of goods-- often referred to as "dream books" by rural families.

Aaron Montgomery Ward was born on Feb. 17, 1844 and died on Dec. 7, 1913. He first worked for Marshall Field, a department store, as both a store clerk and a traveling salesman. As a traveling salesman, he realized that his rural customers could be better served by mail-order, a revolutionary idea. He started his business with only $2,400 in capital. Montgomery Ward was a mail-order only business until 1926, when the first Montgomery Ward retail store opened in Plymouth, Indiana.

The First Automatic Postal Sorter

Canadian electronics scientist, Doctor Maurice Levy invented an automatic postal sorter in 1957 that could handle 200,000 letters an hour.

According to "Canada Post Corporation" written by author John MacDonald, the (Canadian) Post Office Department commissioned Dr. Maurice Levy to design and supervise the building of a new, electronic, computer controlled, automatic mail sortation system for Canada. A hand-made model sorter was tested at postal headquarters in Ottawa in 1953. It worked, and a prototype coding and sortation machine, capable of processing all of the mail then generated by the City of Ottawa, was built by Canadian manufacturers and assembled in the Langevin Building, at Ottawa, in 1956. It could process mail at a rate of 30,000 letters per hour, with a missort factor of less than one letter in 10 000. Visitors from around the world who attended the Universal Postal Union Congress in 1957 were impressed, but a change of government brought about the closing of Dr. Levy's laboratory."

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