West German Code
Then, I had an opportunity during an intensive tour of western European postal systems last may to study at first-hand the operation and use of the German coding plan in the Federal Republic.
Their code, a simple four-digit one of limited flexibility, was designed primarily to eliminate the vast confusion existing among many dozens of cities with the same name, and the lack of use of state names in addresses. In spite of the relatively limited scope of the West German code, I was amazed to find that after barely a year 80 per cent of the West German mail is coded by the public as well as by large mailers. An intensive promotion campaign on the part of the West German Postal System, backed up and strongly supported by large mailers in that country, has achieved amazing results in a very sot time.
Analyzing these elements, we have again raised our sights, and on July 1 will begin asking literally everyone in the United States to use the ZIP Code on all mail, incoming and outgoing.
Since the announcement of the details of the code in late April, we have been engaged in perhaps the most comprehensive and intensive training and education campaign ever within the Department to be followed July 1 by an equally intensive public campaign.
Department staffs have been thoroughly briefed and trained and integrated into multi-bureau teams for handling all aspects of the Coding program. Code coordinators have been named in each of our 15 regions and been given intensive training in the Code and its application. ADP specialists have been working overtime to prepare the programming for all types of ADP equipment which can utilize the Code.
Our Customer Relations Division has been intensively developing material for use by large mailers in making the changeover to coding. And teams made up of regional and Departmental code specialists have been currently touring the United States, giving intensive two-day training courses to all of our postmasters. By July 1, the ZIP Code will be a familiar item to all postal employees.
At the same time, Mr. ZIP has taken on the job of public information ever attempted by the Department, scheduled for simultaneous use on July 1. Mr. ZIP’s exposure from that date will range from posters and buttons. To radio-television, to an individual calling card delivered to each and every mail patron in the United States.
In the meantime, the press of the United States, as is usual, has been cooperating amazingly well at the local level in providing the public with a series of stories on local coding, local ZIP Code prefixes, and the relation of the coding pattern to each community.
The Post Office Department will provide large volume mailers with either magnetic tapes or decks of punched cards – depending upon the type of electronic equipment they have – containing a master file of ZIP Code for all delivery points in the nation. We will also make available a generalized computer program adaptable to ADP equipment. This will enable the mailer to feed the master file into his computer, which will match post office addresses with appropriate ZIP Codes. Also ZIP Code directories will be available on a continuing basis as on July 1. Listing Sectional Center and Post Office ZIP Codes for given areas of the nation.
Three new Elements
Meanwhile, back at the postal lab, the egg I mentioned above is incubating. Our engineers will now have three essential ingredients for mechanization never before available:
- Our engineers can, for the first time, plan in anticipation of a standardization of mail – the wide-spread use of the five-digit code number on letters and packages coupled with increasing physical standardization.
- They can, for the first time, specifically identify and develop cost volume criteria for a manageable number of offices – the 500 plus sectional centers – most of which will be the focal point of sufficient volume to make mechanization studies feasible.
- Experimental work can focus on the optical scanner – the machine that will literally read the numbers – within a timetable of experimentation, field tests, and installation.
With various inter-related mailer cooperation plans (and particularly coding) well-launched, we can say for the first time that the barrier to the minimal necessary degree of standardization is well under way to removal.
ZIP Code also opens the door on the other big problem in mechanization – the development of economic criteria. It is demonstrably poor management for anyone to demand from the Congress funds for “mechanization” without being prepared to justify each piece of machinery on the basis of its cost versus volume and payout period. In no other industry or private business would such a broad general proposal be made, yet such a position is constantly taken by mailers, and, unfortunately, in past years, such an implication was left by the Department itself.
But such data can be gathered only by careful field tests under actual conditions with machinery that not only has been well researched. But has been “de-bugged” in the essential and too often neglected development phase.
For example, we are now buying the Ark II facer-cancelers in quantity at an attractive competitive bidding price, because enough of those machines have been tested in enough post officers under actual conditions to provide the necessary data. The result: Sufficient appropriations to purchase them on a continuing basis.
Letter sorters – the touchstone of the mechanization magicians – have not until recently been able to produce such data. The tragedy of Providence, Rhode Island – useful and interesting as the post office there is in many respects – stems from the fact that volumes are not large enough and letter sorters are not contemporary enough to provide information of applicable value to other offices or the system as a whole.
But, the large modern letter sorters in Detroit, Michigan, now in full operation for over a year, are producing useful data and will give us a kind of criteria that has so long been missing in this area of postal machinery.
And at the same time, their smaller brothers, the keytronic one-position letter sorters, have been tested under filed conditions in the large Baltimore Post Office and are now undergoing field evaluation with live mail in medium sized post offices around the country.
That we are just now able to develop criteria for these machines illustrates the soundness of putting the “egg before the chicken.” If you will.
While useless, it might be constructive to speculate on just where the American Postal System might be in postal mechanization today if criteria and standardization had been developed before machines were installed in past years.