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U.S. Postal Service Introduces ZIP Codes

USPS Mr. ZIP to help adoption of new ZIP codes

American History

For this first day of July, here are some facts about the use of ZIP codes:

  • On July 1, 1963, the United States Postal Service introduced the five-digit ZIP code.
  • ZIP stands for “Zone Improvement Plan.” The use of all capital letters indicates that mail with the code added to the address traveled faster and more efficiently.
  • The original intention of the code was to allow mail sorting methods to be automated. It eventually became a social tool for organizing and displaying demographic information. This has been useful , for example, in industries involved with insurance and real estate, for target marketing, to calculate loan risk for banks, and to guide diversification of university classes.
  • The idea is credited to Robert Moon, a Philadelphia Postal Inspector, who advocated its use back in the 1940s.
  • To achieve a good adoption rate, the U.S. Postal Service launched and educational campaign, featuring Mr. ZIP. Public service announcements aired on TV and radio. Teachers added it to their lesson plans. Mr. ZIP appeared on post office walls, on AT&T trucks, and in local phone directories. One example was the PSA from the 1960s about the new ZIP Code system and how it works. The tagline was: “And remember, only you can put ZIP in your postal system.”
  • The extended ZIP+4 code was introduced in the 1983. These digits indicate a more specific location within a given ZIP code. They met with public resistance and are not mandatory. The mail optical character readers today automatically determine that code in many cases anyway.

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