History of United States postage rates
The system for mail delivery in the United States has developed with the nation. Rates were based on the distance between sender and receiver in the early years of the nation. In the middle of the 19th century, rates stabilized to one price regardless of distance. Rates were relatively unchanged until 1968, when the price was increased every few years by a small amount. Comparing the increases with a price index, the price of a first class stamp has been steady. The logo for the Post Office showed a man on a running horse, even as the railroads and then motorized trucks moved mail. In 1970, the Post Office became the Postal Service, with rates set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, and some oversight by the Congress. Air mail became standard in 1975. In the 21st century, prices were segmented to match the sorting machinery in use; letters too large for the machines required slightly higher postage.
Postal rates to 1847
Initial United States postage rates were set by Congress as part of the Postal Service Act signed into law by President George Washington on February 20, 1792. The postal rate varied according to "distance zone", the distance a letter was to be carried from the post office where it entered the mail to its final destination. Rates were adopted in 1847 for mail to or from the Pacific Coast and in 1848 for mail sent from one place in the west to another place in the west. There were double and triple rates as a letter's size increased. There were ship fees which were also added (i.e. mail to Hawaii). The ship fee, including the ship rate on letters for delivery at the port of entry, were on a per letter basis, rather than weight. The United States issued its first postage stamps in 1847. Before that time, the rates, dates and origin of the letter were written by hand or sometimes in combination with a handstamp device.
US Postal Service
(for first ounce)
(for first ounce)
|Postcard rate||International rate (letters)||Comments|
|March 3, 1863||.06
(.03 for 1⁄2 oz)
(.03 per 1⁄2 oz)
|.06||.02 per half ounce in drop boxes|
|October 1, 1883||.04
(.02 for 1⁄2 oz)
(.02 per 1⁄2 oz)
|July 1, 1885||.02||.02||.02||.02|||
|July 1, 1898||.02||.02||.02||.01|||
|November 2, 1917||.03||.03||.03||.02||War Years|
|July 1, 1919||.02||.02||.02||.01||Dropped back by Congress|
|April 15, 1925||.02||.02||.02||.01 (stamped cards)
|July 1, 1928||.02||.02||.02||.01|
|July 6, 1932||.03||.03||.03||.01|
|January 1, 1952||.03||.03||.03||.02|
|August 1, 1958||.04||.04||.04||.03|
|January 7, 1963||.05||.05||.05||.04|
|January 7, 1968||.06||.06||.06||.05|
|May 16, 1971||.08||.08||.08||.06|
|March 2, 1974||.10||.10||.10||.08|
|September 14, 1975||.10||.10||.09||.07||Last surface mail rate|
|December 31, 1975||.13||.13||.11||.09||All domestic first class & postcards by airmail|
|May 29, 1978||.15||.15||.13||.10||A Stamp Used|
|March 22, 1981||.18||.18||.17||.12||B Stamp Used|
|November 1, 1981||.20||.20||.17||.13||C Stamp Used|
|February 17, 1985||.22||.22||.17||.14||D Stamp Used|
|April 3, 1988||.25||.25||.20||.15||E Stamp Used|
|February 3, 1991||.29||.29||.23||.19||F Stamp Used (also 4 cent F makeup rate stamp)|
|January 1, 1995||.32||.32||.23||.20||G Stamp Used (also 3 cent G makeup rate stamp)|
|January 10, 1999||.33||.33||.22||.20||H Stamp Used (also 1 cent H makeup rate stamp)|
|January 7, 2001||.34||.34||.21||.20||Nondenominated Stamps Used|
|July 1, 2001||.34||.34||.23||.21||Nondenominated Stamps Used|
|June 30, 2002||.37||.37||.23||.23||Flag and Antique Toy Stamps Used|
|January 8, 2006||.39||.39||.24||.24||Lady Liberty Flag Stamp Used|
|May 14, 2007||.41||1.13||.17||.26||Shape-based postage pricing introduced; Forever stamps introduced; different prices for letters and packages for the first time|
|May 12, 2008||.42||1.17||.17||.27||Price change announced February 11, 2008|
|May 11, 2009||.44||1.22||.17||.28||Price change announced February 10, 2009|
|April 17, 2011||.44||1.71 (3 oz)||.20 (letters)
|January 22, 2012||.45||1.95 (3 oz)||.20 (letters)
|January 27, 2013||.46||2.07 (3 oz)||.20 (letters)
|.33||Price change announced October 11, 2012|
|January 26, 2014||.49||2.32 (3 oz)||.21 (letters)
|.34||Price change announced September 25, 2013|
|May 31, 2015||.49||2.54 (3 oz)||.22 (letters)
|April 10, 2016||.47||2.54 (3 oz)||.21 (letters)
|.34||Price change announced February 25, 2016|
|January 22, 2017||.49||2.67 (3 oz)||.21 (letters)
|.34||Price change announced October 12, 2016|
|January 21, 2018||.50||3.50 (4 oz)||.21 (letters)
|.35||Price change announced October 6, 2017|
|January 27, 2019||.55||.15 (letters)||.35||1.15||Price change announced October 19, 2018|
|January 26, 2020||.55||.15 (letters)||.35||1.20|
|January 24, 2021||.55||.20||.36||1.20||Price change announced October 9, 2020|
|August 29, 2021||.58||.20||.53||1.30|
- 1 oz is 28.34 g.
Taking the above data and plotting it yields the graph shown to the right. The dark plot is the actual issued price of the stamp and the light plot is the price adjusted for inflation and is shown in 2019 US cents.
This plot shows that, despite the nominal rise in the cost of a first-class stamp, the adjusted cost of a stamp has stayed relatively stable. Since at least the early 1980s, the price of a stamp has closely followed the consumer price index. The large jumps in the early 1900s are because a change by a single penny was large compared to the cost of the stamp. For example, the price increase from $0.02 to $0.03 on July 6, 1932, was a 50% increase in cost. Additionally, while the cost of the stamp itself remained fixed, the adjusted price in 2019 dollars was not fixed over time which added to larger jumps in adjusted prices.
Domestic parcel post service was adopted in 1913, 25 years after the Post Office had agreed to deliver international parcel post packages pursuant to the Universal Postal Union treaty and various bilateral agreements with other nations. “The establishment of parcel post in 1913 had a tremendously stimulating effect on the national economy; it opened a world of opportunities for both farmers and merchants alike.” Initially, there were no or few postal regulations governing packages mailed by parcel post. E.g., to construct a bank in Vernal, Utah, in 1916, a Salt Lake City company ascertained that the cheapest way to send 40 tons of bricks to the building was by parcel post.
Bulk postal rates were restructured in 1996:
- Second Class became Periodicals
- Third and Fourth Class Mail became Standard Mail (A) and (B)
- Special Fourth Class Mail was renamed Special Standard Mail
In 2007, First Class Mail was restructured to include variable pricing based on size, not just on weight. Shape-based postage pricing is a form of dimensional weight. Also at that time, International Parcel Post air service was re-branded as Priority Mail International, and Parcel Post surface service was discontinued for international destinations.
Regular Air Mail service began in 1918 and over the years rates varied considerably depending on distance and technology. Domestic Air Mail, as a class of service, officially ended May 1, 1977. By that time all domestic First Class Mail was being dispatched by the most expeditious means, surface or air, whether or not the Air Mail postage had been paid.
During the summer of 2010 the USPS requested the Postal Regulatory Commission to raise the price of a first class stamp by 2 cents, from 44 cents to 46 cents, to take effect January 2, 2011. On September 30, 2010, the PRC formally denied the request, but the USPS filed an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington DC.
On September 25, 2013, the USPS announced a 3 cent increase in the First Class postal rate, to be effective January 26, 2014, increasing the price of a stamp to 49 cents. Bulk mail, periodicals, and package service rates were also increased by 6 percent. A loss of US$5 billion during the 2013 fiscal year was the reason given for the increase.
The legislation which set the price to 49 cents was enacted as a temporary measure and as an "exigent surcharge for mailing products and services". However, this legislation was set to expire in April 2016. As a result, the Post Office retained one cent of the price change as a previously allotted adjustment for inflation, but the price of a first class stamp became 47 cents: for the first time in 97 years (and for the third time in the agency's history), the price of a stamp decreased.
Unions of the U.S. Postal Service:
- American Postal Workers Union
- National Association of Letter Carriers
- National Postal Mail Handlers Union
- National Rural Letter Carriers' Association
- Post Office Murals
- American Letter Mail Company
- Postage stamps and postal history of the United States of America
- Smoot, Frederick. "Early United States Domestic Postal Rates". TNGenWeb. Retrieved June 29, 2014.
- "Rates for Stamped Cards and Postcards". HISTORIAN, United States Postal Service. February 2019. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
Postcards (privately printed cards) did not qualify for a special postage rate until July 1, 1898. Since then, the rates for postcards have been the same as for stamped cards (produced by the Postal Service) except for the period from April 15, 1925, to July 1, 1928.
- Encyclopædia Britannica, 9th ed., Postal Service
- "Rates for Stamped Cards and Postcards" (PDF). HISTORIAN, United States Postal Service. February 2019. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- "U.S. Domestic Postcard Rates". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Washington, D.C. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- "Postal rates go up today". The Galveston Daily News. Galveston, TX. AP. April 3, 1988. Archived from the original on December 11, 2018. Retrieved October 29, 2016 – via Newspapers.com.
- "2011 U.S. postage rate increase". Retrieved December 8, 2019.
NOTE: The price for a First-Class Mail stamp did not increase in 2010, nor 2011.
- "U.S. Postal Service Announces New Prices for 2014". United States Postal Service Postal News. September 25, 2013. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- "Forced Price Reduction to Worsen USPS Financial Condition by $2 Billion Per Year". United States Postal Service Postal News. February 25, 2016. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- "Postal Service announces 2017 mailing services prices". United States Postal Service Postal News. Retrieved January 8, 2017.
- "USPS Website Price List, Notice 123". Archived from the original on 2016-07-07. Retrieved 2016-06-25.
- "U.S. Postal Service Announces New Prices for 2018". United States Postal Service Postal News. October 6, 2017. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- for the 5th through 8th oz, the price is a constant 25 cent increase. The 35 cent increase starts with the 9th oz.
- "Stamp Price Increases 2020: USPS Stamp, Mail Rates Going Up in January?".
- "First-Class Mail International | USPS". www.usps.com. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
- "U.S. Postal Service Announces New Prices for 2021".
- "U.S. Postal Service Announces New Prices for 2021".
- "Parcel Post: Delivery of Dreams". Smithsonian libraries. Washington, D.C. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- "Precious Packages—America's Parcel Post Service". National Postal Museum. Retrieved 2014-11-13.
- 2007 Comprehensive Statement on Postal Service Operations http://www.usps.com/strategicplanning/cs07/chpt2_007.htm
- Metzler, Natasha (September 30, 2010). "Rate board denies Postal Service price hike plea". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-11-15.
- O'Keefe, Ed (October 22, 2010). "Postage rates may still go up". Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-11-15.
- Reilly, Allison (25 December 2013). "Postal Rates Going Up In January". DailyGlobe. Retrieved 2013-12-26.
- Laura Wagner (1 March 2016). "Stamp Prices Set To Drop 2 Cents In April, Putting USPS In Sticky Situation". National Public Radio.
- Isidore, Chris (April 8, 2016). "Postage prices set to go down, and the USPS isn't happy". CNN Business. Retrieved December 8, 2019.
- First Class Mail Prices, 2010
- Rates for Domestic Letters Since 1863
- Rates for Stamped Cards and Postcards
- Consumer Price Index data
- Nondenomination Stamps FAQ
- Paying the Postage in the U.S., 1776–1921
- USPS Price List Notice 123