There is one company name that all UK citizens are familiar with and associate with the term the Postal service – ‘Royal Mail.’ They have an impressive history of over 360 years and have revolutionised communication.

King Charles 1 created a public postal system in 1635, prior to this, letters were only transported to and from the Royal Court and the King himself. Later a service extended from London to Plymouth, and eventually others followed until a network big enough to service the whole of the UK developed.

Initially businesses and the wealthy were the only people who used the system as it was complicated and expensive. Gradually improvements were made with both the delivery routes and with the introduction of cheaper local postage. The Government collected all revenue from the postal service, some of which was used to finance the UK in times of war.

One man created what became the basis of an efficient postal service. In 1840 Rowland Hill introduced pre-paid postage in the form of stamps, the most famous of all being the Penny Black stamp; he also created a uniform charge based on the weight of the letter, simplifying the once complex system.

Hill also initiated the idea for the postcode; he divided London into compass points, N, S, E, and W. The numbers in London postcodes i.e. SE1 did not arrive until the First World War and it was not until many years later that the whole of the UK was post coded. In 1860 Rowland Hill’s work was recognised and he was knighted by Queen Victoria.

Once these first postal stamps had been issued, other countries began to follow suit, Brazil, The US, and later Belgium and France to name a few. British colonies however, had to make do with a hand stamp stating the city or country the post was paid for, with a simple image of a crown on top of a circle, printed in red ink.

Sadly the UK was not the world leader where pillar boxes and letter boxes were concerned.

The first pillar box on the British mainland was erected in Carlisle in 1853, years behind other European countries such as Germany and France, and in 1849 the Post Office had to encourage the public to provide letter boxes.

All envelopes were hand-made until two men were granted a patent for their envelope making machine in 1845. Warren De La Rue and Edwin Hill, Rowland Hills brother. Unfortunately their design was not particularly efficient, and had various design flaws. Nearly 50 years later a more successful, effective envelope making machine emerged which produced pre-gummed envelopes, similar to some that we see around today.

The production and development of paper increased to meet ever-growing demand. The most famous paper making machine was called the ‘Fourdrinier’ machine, it created the first large reels of paper which were guillotined to create many rectangular sheets at once. This invention later affected the design of mechanical printing machines such as typewriters and even computer printers, all have been designed to process rectangular shaped paper.

By the end of the 20th century envelope making machines were far more effective but came at a price, one machine cost roughly $ 1 million; they also had extremely high manufacturing costs. Not surprisingly huge expenses prevented this particular industry from developing for a long time, not until the late 20th century did any significant advances take place.

The envelope manufacturing industry, the postal service, the printing industry, and equipment production e.g. franking machine production, have always been closely linked, one would not exist without another. If there were no envelopes would we require stamps? In all these fields we have progressed tremendously, but are technological advances a threat to these industries?

The postal system today is organised by national and privatised services, and involves undertaking international regulations and agreements. It has become relatively easy to send a parcel or letter anywhere in the world inexpensively. Although there are still many jobs within the postal service much of the processing, organising, and security is now carried out by various high tech machines. In some countries the postal systems has authority on telephone and telegraph systems, or allows for passport applications or savings accounts.

The advent of e-mail in the early 90′s caused unrest in the postal service in the USA, by 2008 they reported significantly smaller volumes of letter post. Strangely the expected decrease in demand for envelopes did not occur. In more recent years the UK have reported a rise in letter post. So results are inconclusive.

Stamp production and printing has evolved with new stamps or limited edition stamps being produced regularly. It is debatable whether the introduction of special delivery services, which have bar-coded stickers rather than stamps, has hugely affected the sale of stamps or not.

Envelopes and paper have also evolved, although their basic design has not changed much. However, there is now a huge variety of packaging and a wide variety of paper available to the general public. There are more types of post specific packaging available today, for example Arofol padded envelopes, ideal for small items requiring some protection, or mailing bags, great for professional mail ordering companies to send their products to customers in.

People will always require letters, whether its official documents or personal letters, and we will always have a need for parcels, delivery of a personal purchases or business items for example. As stated earlier many of the discussed industries are inter-connected, so, in theory so long as the demand is there these industries are safe, with or without technological advances.

When you consider the history involved in all of these industries, particularly Royal Mail, it becomes clear how tragic it would be to lose them altogether, and in tough economic times with well known companies like ‘Woolworths’ collapsing and disappearing before our eyes, it seems it is our duty to do what we can to keep these essential services available.

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