From Dead Letter office to Mail Recovery Center

Dead letter

In the early history of the Post Office, how to handle letters that were undeliverable as addressed became a vexing problem. They couldn’t just be thrown away, because it would damage the advertised integrity and security of the mail.

In 1825, the Postal Department designated “dead letter offices” where clerks were authorized to open mail and try to determine where it should be redirected.

By the end of the 19th century, it wasn’t uncommon for dead letter offices to handle as many as 23,000 pieces of mail a day.

About 40 percent of the mysterious pieces of mail were reunited with a sender or a recipient.

Later, as more valuables were coming to the dead letter offices, some hiring preferences were put in place. Retired clergymen were hired for their honesty and more women were added as they were thought to be better an analyzing complex and complicated addresses.

Today, with the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, the volume is much larger and the process much more complex.

Last year, about 82 million items were processed by the MRC. Of that total, 57 percent of items were determined to be of “possible value” and were returned or forwarded.

Read the Smithsonian article here.

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6 Comments

  1. Grannybunny

     /  February 5, 2013

    Thanks for the link to the article; very interesting.

  2. Postal worker

     /  February 6, 2013

    I too want to thank you for the link to the article. Pretty interesting information.

  3. Jonn

     /  February 8, 2013

    I wonder where stuff like earrings or unidentified flash drives go? Are they donated to a local charity?

  4. Anonymous

     /  February 17, 2013

    very interesting bit of history.

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