A Brief Overview of the U.S. Postal Code

Most countries have their own postal coding systems. Italy has a postal shipping code, India has postal index numbers, Canada uses the general term postal code, while the United States has the postal code.

The term zip code was coined by the former United States Post Office Department (USPOD), now known as USPS. ZIP stands for Zone Improvement Plan, an initiative born out of necessity after the United States experienced an economic boom that required a faster method of sorting mail.

ZIP has since evolved into something beyond just sorting mail. It is also used by the government as a way to profile the demographics of the country’s population.

History of postal codes

The creation of the postcode is attributed to two people, each with their own significant contribution to those five numbers.

Robert Moon, nicknamed the father of the zip code, worked as a postal inspector. He proposed to use the first three digits of the current U.S. zip code, which indicates the national area and section center facility (SCF) for each mail. The SCF is a processing center that organizes and directs the flow of mail and parcels they receive, before they are routed to specific locations.

The fourth and fifth numbers were therefore introduced by Henry Bentley Hahn Sr. These last two numbers are those which point to the local post offices responsible for dispersing and delivering mail.

With the combination of these five numbers, the USPS finally caught up to the rapid pace that the economy demanded of them.

ZIP Plus Four

In addition to the basic 5-digit format, the US ZIP code has an enhanced version. Postcode + 4 is a more specific address code that will focus on more identifying information, like street, block or even group of apartments.

Although the USPS aimed to widely implement the use of +4 zip codes, this act encountered considerable resistance. Therefore, the extended version is not required for publication. Still, putting those extra 4 digits in a mailing address can help minimize errors involved in the mailing process.

Additional postal code information

Fun fact, personal postal codes exist, but only for those who are either incredibly high profile personalities or those who receive a high volume of mail.

As given, the US President has his own assigned zip code, 20500-0001. The First Lady also has her own zip code + 4 under the number 20500-0002. Large +4 postal codes with the same basic 5-digit format are directed to other people and government branches of the White House.

Interestingly, a cat belonging to a former presidential family, the Clintons, had their own zip code. Socks the Cat received their own mail until 20500-0010. The assignment of a personal code and the White House’s efforts for a chat have raised questions from government officials.

Apart from that, other notable personal zip codes in the United States include Smokey Bear and Santa Claus.

Smokey Bear became a well-known public figure after being the victim of a forest fire in the 1950s. He became a symbol of hope for the general public, especially children. For years he received mails and greetings via zip code 20252.

Although the designated code was eventually taken out of service, letters continued to flow. This prompted the USPS and the US Forest Service to reinstate Smokey’s personal zip code.

As for Santa … You can write letters to him using 99705. All mail will be delivered to Alaska, in a town rightly called the North Pole.


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