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AMiable Solution #376: The Funny Thing About Mailboxes

As marketers, we get so focused on what we send through the mail that we don’t often stop to think about what it ends up in. Here’s a brief history with current implications of the current mailbox.

Unless you’ve recently replaced one, you probably give little thought to mailboxes. After all, they’re just a vessel, a tool, a means to an end. But if it weren’t for the lowly mailbox, you wouldn’t have a way to send customers and prospects printed messages in a safe and reliable way.

When mail delivery was just an experiment back in 1896, residents used all sorts of materials to collect and send their mail. Old cigar boxes. Drainage pipes. Feed boxes. National Mailboxes says that even uncleaned coal oil, syrup, and food containers were left outside for mail deliveries. The variation in structures not only meant a mess for the mail carriers, but as the manufacturer says, it also “resulted in a wide variety of ‘mailboxes,’ which was not the easiest way for the mailman to know what was and wasn’t a mailbox.”

By 1901, the Postmaster General decided it was time that mail receptacles were more secure and consistent and appointed a committee to examine and recommend specific models of mailboxes to use on rural routes. The committee’s requirements? The boxes had to be made of metal, have an opening or hinge to make it weather-proof, measure approximately 6 by 8 by 18 inches with an opening at the top or side, and be fastened to a post at a deliverer-friendly height.

As the USPS explains, “The committee examined 63 mailboxes that had been submitted for review and approved 14 of them. While customers were not required to remove existing mailboxes, only approved mailboxes were permitted on new routes or when replacing old boxes — a policy that continues to this day.”

You see, the Postmaster General understood then what marketers know now: people aren’t one-size-fits-all. They have personal preferences and different situations.

And that’s okay. Recognizing individual needs is okay. Respecting individual preferences is good. And acknowledging customer choice is great.

That’s the funny thing about mailboxes. They connect you to your customers more than you realize.

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