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The mail or post is a system for physically transporting postcards, letters, and parcels.[1] A postal service can be private or public, though many governments place restrictions on private systems. Since the mid-19th century, national postal systems have generally been established as a government monopoly, with a fee on the article prepaid. Proof of payment is usually in the form of an adhesive postage stamp, but a postage meter is also used for bulk mailing.

Postal authorities often have functions aside from transporting letters. In some countries, a postal, telegraph and telephone (PTT) service oversees the postal system, in addition to telephone and telegraph systems. Some countries' postal systems allow for savings accounts and handle applications for passports.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU), established in 1874, includes 192 member countries and sets the rules for international mail exchanges.

Etymology

Mail envelope (back to back)

The word mail comes from the Medieval English word male, referring to a travelling bag or pack.[2] It was spelled in that manner until the 17th century and is distinct from the word male. The French have a similar word, malle, for a trunk or large box, and mála is the Irish term for a bag. In the 17th century, the word mail began to appear as a reference for a bag that contained letters: "bag full of letter" (1654). Over the next hundred years the word mail began to be applied strictly to the letters themselves and the sack as the mailbag. In the 19th century, the British typically used mail to refer to letters being sent abroad (i.e. on a ship) and post to refer to letters for domestic delivery. The word Post is derived from Medieval French poste, which ultimately stems from the past participle of the Latin verb ponere ("to lay down or place").[3] So in the U.K., the Royal Mail delivers the post, whilst in North America both the U.S. Postal Service and Canada Post deliver the mail.

The term email (short for "electronic mail") first appeared in the 1970s.[4][5] The term snail-mail is a retronym to distinguish it from the quicker email. Various dates have been given for its first use.[6][7][8]

History

postal, telegraph and telephone (PTT) service oversees the postal system, in addition to telephone and telegraph systems. Some countries' postal systems allow for savings accounts and handle applications for passports.

The Universal Postal Union (UPU), established in 1874, includes 192 member countries and sets the rules for international mail exchanges.

The word mail comes from the Medieval English word male, referring to a travelling bag or pack.[2] It was spelled in that manner until the 17th century and is distinct from the word male. The French have a similar word, malle, for a trunk or large box, and mála is the Irish term for a bag. In the 17th century, the word mail began to appear as a reference for a bag that contained letters: "bag full of letter" (1654). Over the next hundred years the word mail began to be applied strictly to the letters themselves and the sack as the mailbag. In the 19th century, the British typically used mail to refer to letters being sent abroad (i.e. on a ship) and post to refer to letters for domestic delivery. The word Post is derived from Medieval French poste, which ultimately stems from the past participle of the Latin verb ponere ("to lay down or place").[3] So in the U.K., the Royal Mail delivers the post, whilst in North America both the U.S. Postal Service and Canada Post deliver the mail.

The term email (short for "electronic mail") first appeared in the 1970s.[4][5] The term snail-mail is a retronym to distinguish it from the quicker email. Various dates have been given for its first use.[6][7][8]

History

Many early post systems consisted of fixed courier routes. Here, a post house on a postal route in the 19th century Finland

The practice of communication by written documents carried by an intermediary from one person or place to another almost certainly dates back nearly to the invention of writing. However, the development of formal postal systems occurred much later. The first documented use of an organized courier service for the dissemination of written documents is in Egypt, where Pharaohs used couriers for the dissemination of their decrees in the territory of the State (2400 BCE). The earliest surviving piece of mail is also Egyptian, dating to 255 BCE.[9]

Persia (Iran)

The first credible claim for the development of a real postal system comes from Ancient Persia, but the point of invention remains in question. The best-documented claim (Xenophon) attributes the invention to the Persian King Cyrus the Great (550 BCE), who mandated that every province in his kingdom would organize reception and delivery of post to each of its citizens. He also negotiated with neighboring countries to do the same and had roads built from the city of Post in Western Iran all the way up to the city of Hakha in the East. Other writers credit his successor Darius I of Persia (521 BCE). Other sources claim much earlier dates for an Assyrian postal system, with credit given to Hammurabi (1700 BCE) and Sargon II (722 BCE). Mail may not have been the primary mission of this postal service, however. The role of the system as an intelligence gathering apparatus is well documented, and the service was (later) called angariae, a term that in time came to indicate a tax system. The Old Testament (Esther, VIII) makes mention of this system: Ahasuerus, king of Medes, used couriers for communicating his decisions.

The Persian system worked using stations (called Chapar-Khaneh), whence the message carrier (called Chapar) would ride to the next post, whereupon he would swap his horse with a fresh one for maximum performance and delivery speed. Herodotus described the system in this way: "It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the

The term email (short for "electronic mail") first appeared in the 1970s.[4][5] The term snail-mail is a retronym to distinguish it from the quicker email. Various dates have been given for its first use.[6][7][8]

writing. However, the development of formal postal systems occurred much later. The first documented use of an organized courier service for the dissemination of written documents is in Egypt, where Pharaohs used couriers for the dissemination of their decrees in the territory of the State (2400 BCE). The earliest surviving piece of mail is also Egyptian, dating to 255 BCE.[9]

Persia (Iran)

The first credible claim for the development of a real postal system comes from Ancient Persia, but the point of invention remains in question. The best-documented claim (The first credible claim for the development of a real postal system comes from Ancient Persia, but the point of invention remains in question. The best-documented claim (Xenophon) attributes the invention to the Persian King Cyrus the Great (550 BCE), who mandated that every province in his kingdom would organize reception and delivery of post to each of its citizens. He also negotiated with neighboring countries to do the same and had roads built from the city of Post in Western Iran all the way up to the city of Hakha in the East. Other writers credit his successor Darius I of Persia (521 BCE). Other sources claim much earlier dates for an Assyrian postal system, with credit given to Hammurabi (1700 BCE) and Sargon II (722 BCE). Mail may not have been the primary mission of this postal service, however. The role of the system as an intelligence gathering apparatus is well documented, and the service was (later) called angariae, a term that in time came to indicate a tax system. The Old Testament (Esther, VIII) makes mention of this system: Ahasuerus, king of Medes, used couriers for communicating his decisions.

The Persian system worked using stations (called Chapar-Khaneh), whence the message carrier (called Chapar) would ride to the next post, whereupon he would swap his horse with a fresh one for maximum performance and delivery speed. Herodotus described the system in this way: "It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each hors

The Persian system worked using stations (called Chapar-Khaneh), whence the message carrier (called Chapar) would ride to the next post, whereupon he would swap his horse with a fresh one for maximum performance and delivery speed. Herodotus described the system in this way: "It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day's journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed".[10] The verse prominently features on New York's James Farley Post Office, although it has been slightly rephrased to Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

The economic growth and political stability under the Mauryan empire (322–185 BCE) stimulated sustained development of civil infrastructure in ancient India. The Mauryans developed early Indian mail service as well as public wells, rest houses, and other facilities for the public.[12] Common chariots called Dagana were sometimes used as mail chariots in ancient India.[13] Couriers were used militarily by kings and local rulers to deliver information through runners and other carriers. The postmaster, the head of the intelligence service, was responsible for ensuring the maintenance of the courier system. Couriers were also used to deliver personal letters.[14]

In South India, the Wodeyar dynasty (1399–1947) of the Kingdom of Mysore used mail service for espionage purposes thereby acquiring knowledge related to matters that took place at great distances.[15]

By the end of the 18th century, a postal system in India was in operation. Later this system underwent complete modernization when the British Raj established its control over most of India. The Post Office Act XVII of 1837 provided that the Governor-General of India in Council had the exclusive right of conveying letters by post for hire within the territories of the East India Company. The mails were available to certain officials without charge, which became a controversial privilege as the years passed. On this basis the Indian Post Office was established on October 1, 1837.[16]

Rome