Edited Transcripts

Mail! with Nika Thought-werk

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Fraulein Bookworm, would you do the rules, bitte?

Bookworm Hienrichs nods and shuffles for her notebook.
Welcome to this month’s Aether Salon! Today, Miss Nika Thought-werk discusses the history, purpose and mystery of the mail, and the people that have made it possible. And now, to introduce our speaker, here is Baron Klaus Wulfenbach.

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Fraulein Thought-werk has spoken here before, but today she will be discussing a particular duty and passion of hers – the mail. Whether it be on foot, by train or by air, the mail must go through. Fraulein Nika?

Nika Thought-werk: Hello one and all. So, first, if I may … I do not speak well … I will try to leave time for questions … But, please know I cannot process words of more than two sounds.

Where to begin … the mail …

When you think of letters – and by letters, I do not mean simple symbols that strung in lines can make words – I mean pages written by hand and tucked neatly into env’lopes – what do you think of?

Jimmy Branagh: Bills.
Dollianna: “You’re fired”
Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: Heh.
Dollianna: Gotten a few of those…
Bookworm Hienrichs: Pen pals.

Nika Thought-werk looks around and takes a neatly folded stack of papers from her pocket.

Nika Thought-werk: All of these are valid, but … letters and the mail are much, much more … Letters need a system to carry them to us. We often refer to said system as ‘the mail.’ I love the mail very much. It is my purpose. The mail is one of the most needed el’ments of modern life, without which, nations as we know them could not function. How could a softie-pinksie not love the mail? How did the mail start? Who made the mail? What does the mail give us? All of these questions and more I hope to address in this address … for shouldn’t the mail not have a proper address? I say ‘yes.’

The mail as we know it is said to begin in the crossroads between East and West. We do not know where, to be exact, but the most well-known early postal system was in Persia during the sixth century before the Christ. This system was much like the later Pony Express. It relied on men and horses to carry parcels and letters over the vast expanse of Persia’s Royal Road. The Royal Road stretched some 2,500,000 meters, a distance akin to the distance between the cities of Wash’ton D.C. and Phoenix in the southwest of the ‘nited States.

The Persian mail carr’yers were known as chapars. Unlike mail today, the chapars just carried mail for the King of Persia. Each cour’yer would carry a needed parcel between the stations on his route. The stations were known as the chapar khaneh. When he reached the next station from his home station, the chapar would give the king’s letters to the rider at that station, and the new rider would carry it to the next station. This would happen again and again until the mail reached its target.

Many early mail systems like the ones in Rome and India … and even Old Cathay … were like this. They relied on men and an’mals to carry letters and parcels between two points. Most of the time, the mail system was maintained by the gov’ment. And, the mail was used only by the gov’ment … or very rich people.

One of the first changes from this was the English stage-system. English stage coach comp’nies began to carry mail for common peoples sometime before the seventeenth century after the Christ. The mail had rates that varied almost by the day, and the rates weren’t always posted. To add insult to injury, the people the letters went to often had to pay the postage. Can any of you see a problem with such a system?

Baron Klaus Wulfenbach: I see possible ethical issues, Fraulein Nika.

Nika Thought-werk: Yes … and of most import … The person could always refuse to pay. Because the person the mail was meant for paid for its shipment, one might imagine how much of an expense this would be to the mail service.

People countered this profit-making by the post office by coding secret messages into the address of a letter. How is this poss’ble? You see, at this time in the mail, mail did not go to houses like it does today. The stage-system would take the mail to taverns and pubs in the cities the coaches would visit. When the coaches would arrive with the mail, they would read the names of the people they had letters for. A person in the crowd at the tavern might hear a name being read. That name would have a secret meaning. In this way, the person would hear the message they needed. No one would pay for the letter. And, the post office would lose money.

Now the States, coming off the British … maybe. Now … the States came from the British system and had sim’lar problems. I will talk of those in a moment.

As well, because the pricing system did depend on the person getting the letter, people could refuse to accept the letter or package. It was very hard for the mail in Britain to stay in business. Along with these troubles, a stage driver always faced the fear of robbers and brigands on the road. Because the stages carried the money they did collect for letters with them on their mail routes, they were pretty pigeons to be plucked for a ne’er-do-well, to be sure. Not even mail offices were secure. In fact, in 1758, a night-time theft of the Bull and Coach main office led to over 500 pounds-worth of mail being stolen by the vandals. And that is pounds sterling. In 1758, that was a princely sum.

To counter the threat of theft, the Crown issued bounties of 200 pounds on people who attacked the mail, with 100 pounds more going on the head of those who attacked the mail within five miles of London. The attacks kept going – crippling the British mail.

The mail in the States … my home … started much the same way, and under the same system. The first confirmed post office in the States was set up in Boston in 1639 in a tavern run by Richard Fairbanks. Like the British ciphers, these new post off’ces used newspapers to hide mess’ges. Papers brought to the tavern post off’ces would have lines under the words. These words were set to ciphers. If you had the cipher … you could read the paper, and get your message for free.

By 1737, Ben Franklin … began to work for the postal office in his home state. In his tenure, he helped set new roads for the Post Office, set up night and day routes, set up night and day routes, put a penny-post system in place, and gave order where there was none. In part, because of his good works with the mail, in 1757, he was invited to London to speak to the Crown on behalf of the mail and the soon-to-be-states. He held this position until 1774, when the Crown removed him from his post with the Post. In 1775, the Congress of the Soon-to-be-States made him the Post-master up and down the East Coast. He would serve in this post until the next year, but he got the mail on a sound footing. My country will always be in his debt for this.

Now, by the mid-1800s, the mail in Britain was in dire need of a new way forward. The mail was losing money badly. The modern British mail came at the hands of Sir Rowland Hill, starting in 1837. Three of his most noted reforms were pre-payment of mailing letters, standard shipping rates that were based on weight – rather than distance, and the use of postage stamps to show the payment of the shipping. His reforms had an effect not only on the British mail, but that of the States as well. The stamp had begun as a receipt for tax payments … but its use helped usher in a modern mail system … that made money.

Now, the mail in the States by the mid-1800s was starting to go through problems of its own. By 1847, the United States Congress passed an act to start the use of postage stamps as well. Postal rates were lowered to five cents for sending letters up to 300 miles, and ten cents for sending a letter over 300 miles. Even with the reforms, the U.S. Post Office faced mounting problems with money due to the size of the country. Congress acted against the wishes of the Post-master General to reduce rates further by 1851 to three cents for a half-ounce letter going less than three thousand miles, and six cents for a letter going three thousand miles or more.

One of the other problems faced by the mail in the States at this time was the use of new tools – some of which cost the Postal Service more than they were worth. Among these was the paddle-wheel steamship as a mail transport. This method of shipment was very, very costly, and it was prone to breakdown. Because of the many small river towns and cities in the Southern United States, the South liked the steamship, and the Post Office’s desire to stop steamship service helped spur on the start of the ‘nited States Civil War. The mail helped tear my country apart.

If any wish, there is a very good, new book on this … Secession… and the U.S. Mail. It is by Conrad Kalm-bacher.

After the war, many post systems changed in ways to help people. To give a short rundown of these changes … Throughout our century, the mail went from an inept, sage system … to a modern movement machine, precise and borne by science … In 1830, the first use of the railroad to carry letters was noted in Great Britain. The United States followed in 1831. Throughout the 1850s to 1890s, most countries brought about postal reforms like in Britain. Like stamps.

In 1858, the tell-graph was used to link Europe and the States. This system, though very fast to send a message, broke down by year’s end. The system was not restored until 1865.

In 1860, the Pony Express sought to create a fast mail route to the frontier of the ‘nited States. It linked the town of Saint Joseph, near Saint Louis, to Sacra … Sacra … the cap’tal of the Gold Rush place. It could carry mail along its route from start to finish in ten days. Like the tell-graph linking Europe and the States in 1858, the Express did not last long. It was closed by 1861.

In 1870, the Universal Postal Union, or UPU, was founded. The UPU linked the postal systems of the world and sought to ensure that a letter that started in one country could be taken safely to another country.

Now … one of the other el’ments of the modern mail of which I am fond is the carr’yer pigeon. The UCPS, of which I am the head, hands, tail, and feet use them without questions. They have a long and storied history as mail carr’yers, going back to the time of Ancient Greece. They are of most import as mail carr’yers in times of war. But, their service is not without cost … they are attacked by hawks and falcons. This is most true in war-time. In the Franco Prussian War, during the Siege of Paris, pigeons gave their life to carry news in and out of the city – against the might of Prussian snipers and war-hawks … who were really hawks. By war’s end, France’s Army pigeon post was reduced to but three scant birds.

The long and the short of it is, the mail is meant to serve all. Against the odds, and at a cost of both life and coin, mail-men, women, and birds believe that letters can bring us to gather. Through reaching out to one an other, we become more. We laugh. We love. We dream. We can be. To a mail man or woman or birds, I guess … that is enough to live for … and die for if duty calls. We are not perfect, but we do our best … and in the past hundred years, we have changed much … with an eye on fast and precise service.

Any questions? Please note the music box crate to my right.

Canergak: I did have one, what ciphers were most popular in that time when they were used?
Nika Thought-werk: In turn … the ciphers were many. Pop’lar is not a good term to use … for them … many were homemade, for if they were well-known, the stage drivers could figure out the letter was what it was.

ElaraGloriana: how did you determine that the persians mail system should be presented first? did the earlier letters of the hittites not merit inclusion because of their exclusive use by royals and nobels?
Nika Thought-werk: Now … the Hittites did have such a system … and the men of Ham-Robie
Bookworm Hienrichs: Hammurabi, perhaps?
Nika Thought-werk: But, I believe the Chapar Khaneh were the longest and largest of these early post systems.
Dollianna: Likely the longest, for sure
Nika Thought-werk: Really, though, the systems were not so different. And prob’bly built one upon the other … like any good idea.

ElaraGloriana: do you think the art of correspondence has been lost?
Dollianna: To some, evidently
Nika Thought-werk blinks and looks to Miss Bookworm for translation.
Nika Thought-werk: What?
Tepic Harlequin: are folks writin less?
Bookworm Hienrichs nods at Tepic.
Nika Thought-werk: They are – I think. I worry for the fate of the Post Office … Ok … so, people have pushed for ever-faster and more cheap mail. I think the day will come, when writing itself … Becomes the chief time constraint to a letter … science has shown us this. People hate to take their time for most things. And writing a letter will be no different. In the days to come … I think writing of letters will die … because good letters take time. And with the letters, the post office will die too.

Tepic Harlequin: the Pony Express… it only ran fer one year?
Nika Thought-werk: It did … less than one. Know why?
ElaraGloriana: the civil war interrupted its services, right?
Nika Thought-werk: Worse than that.
Bookworm Hienrichs: The telegraph, wasn’t it?
Dollianna: Telegraphy was a competitor
Nika Thought-werk: The Congress gave its contract to a lower bidder. And so, the service lost to a stage-coach line. It wasn’t until later in 1861 that the Civil War killed East-West mail routes.
Tepic Harlequin: ‘s sad that, Pony Express is sort of… high imagination an adventure…..
Jedburgh Dagger: Low bid versus speed and scales of efficiency
Nika Thought-werk: But Congress killed the Pony Express.
Jedburgh Dagger: The railroad helped kill it too
Nika Thought-werk: To a point.
Tepic Harlequin: least we got our Messengers!
Nika Thought-werk: But one must be mindful of when rail first spanned from the breadth of East to West. True mail by rail to all points West came much later.

Bookworm Hienrichs: Thank you, Miss Nika!
Nika Thought-werk curtsies and skips away “Thank you, one and all!”

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