CHARLOTTE, N.C., July 26, 2017 – Two great American institutions – the United States Postal Service (USPS) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (the FBI) – celebrate their anniversaries today. So let’s pay tribute to them by highlighting a bit of the history surrounding each.
United States Postal Service: Before we officially became a country, the U.S. postal system was established by the Second Continental Congress on this day in 1775. Benjamin Franklin was the first U.S. postmaster-general who, while serving in that capacity, added many elements to the system that are still in use today.
In the beginning, the colonies, still under British rule, had no post offices. Rather, mail and messages were typically left for customers at the inns and taverns that sprang up along the primary coach routes between various towns and cities.
Franklin eventually established more efficient routes with weekly mail wagons that traveled between New York and Philadelphia. Using relay teams that operated day and night, delivery time was cut in half between these two cities.
Franklin also created the first postal rate chart, which based the cost of sending mail on package weight and distance of travel.
As one of two designated postmasters-general for the colonies, however, Franklin was fired by Great Britain in 1774 for participating in revolutionary activities.
When the Continental Congress created the the forerunner of our national postal system in 1775, the already-experienced Franklin was re-hired by the embryonic U.S. government, due in part, presumably, to his earlier service in this office under the British. He yielded his position late the following year when he was appointed our ambassador to France.
After the Articles of Confederation were replaced by our current U.S. Constitution, the first postmaster-general of the unified United States of America was Samuel Osgood, who was appointed by President George Washington in 1789. Osgood only had to oversee approximately 75 post offices. Today, that number has grown to more than 40,000 offices that deliver 212 billion pieces of mail each year to more than 144 million homes and businesses in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Virgin Islands and American Samoa.
With more than 700,000-career workers, the current USPS is now the largest civilian employer in the country. Postal workers handle over 44 percent of the world’s cards and letters. To put that in perspective, a one penny increase in fuel costs adds $8 million to the USPS’s operating costs.
Federal Bureau of Investigation: As an organization, the FBI did not begin operating under that name until 1935 under the leadership of its long-time director, J. Edgar Hoover.
This national crime busting force was actually inaugurated on July 26, 1908 under the moniker of “Bureau of Investigation” or “the BI” when US Attorney General Charles Bonaparte ordered ten newly hired federal investigators to report to Chief Justice Examiner Stanley W. Finch in the Department of Justice (DOJ).
Initially, the government employed private detectives to investigate federal crimes, but later rented agents from other federal organizations such as the Secret Service, which was established following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
At that time, the primary function of the Department of Treasury, of which the Secret Service was a part, was to investigate counterfeiting.
It wasn’t until the early part of 1920 that the U.S. attorney general was granted authorization to hire a few permanent agents, who were, for the most part, accountants with the job of reviewing financial transactions by the federal courts.
At first, when the government began using the bureau as a tool for investigating federal crimes that crossed multiple state lines, there was resistance by many who felt the added authority would lead to an abuse of power by the agency which had grown to more than 300 investigators.
It was America’s entry into World War I that either quelled public fears or diverted their attention to more pressing concerns. During that time, the bureau’s new responsibilities were to investigate draft dodgers, violators of the Espionage Act of 1917 and immigrants who were suspected of radicalism.
A onetime lawyer and former librarian, J. Edgar Hoover, first joined the DOJ in 1917. During the Roaring ’20s, he drastically expanded and restructured the organization with the approval of Congress.
Among Hoover’s accomplishments was transforming his agency into an effective, efficient crime-fighting machine which included a centralized fingerprinting file, crime laboratories and a training school.
During the 1930s under Hoover’s leadership, the BI concentrated heavily on defeating the organized crime syndicates that had arisen in this country largely due to Prohibition. Gangsters and mob leaders such as George “Machine Gun” Kelly and John Dillenger were killed by the bureau’s agents, while others, like Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, head of Murder, Inc., were successfully prosecuted.
The name Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) became official in 1935. By then, Hoover’s agents were known as “G-men.” (The “G” referred to the Government.)
Hoover served under 8 presidents during his lengthy tenure. But in the early 1970s, with the Nixon Watergate scandal moving from simmer to boil, the media, public and Congress became suspicious of Hoover as well, due to allegations of his abuse of power that had plagued the agency during its infancy up to the present time.
However, J. Edgar Hoover died in office in 1972 at the age of 77, putting that issue to rest, at least in a practical sense. No FBI directors since has held the office of FBI Director for anything near the length of Hoover’s term.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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