5 Digits, 50 Years: The Triumphant Return of Mr. ZIP

In 1986, one of history’s hardest-working postmen slipped quietly into retirement—but not before leaving his mark on every card, letter, and package most of us have ever mailed.

We now take ZIP Codes for granted, but when the Zone Improvement Plan began in July 1963, post officials foresaw that few Americans would be excited about memorizing five-digit codes for their own addresses, let alone codes for all of their family and friends. Enter Mr. ZIP, wMr. ZIPho began appearing in the media in late 1962 and started popping up on the selvage of stamp sheets in 1964. His job was to promote ZIP Codes—and to make using them second nature for generations to come.

Some aspects of the campaign, like this video from the mid-1960s, were all business, promising “space-age speed” if you remembered to include a ZIP Code on your letters. Other attempts at public outreach, like fourteen minutes of songs by “The Swingin’ Six,” are reminders of a far different age in American taste. Even so, Mr. ZIP abounds in these videos, just as he appeared on buttons and signs, in magazines, on the sides of trucks, and in other prominent places across the culture. Half a century later, he may well be one of the most successful ad icons of all time: USPS historians note that by 1967, 80 percent of Americans recognized Mr. ZIP and knew what he stood for.

Throughout 2013, we’ll celebrate 50 successful years of the ZIP Code system with the return of the smiling chap who taught America how to keep the mail on track. Mr. ZIP has his own web site at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, and he’s already appeared this year on the backs of the Grand Central Terminal and Arlington Green Bridge stamp sheets. In the months ahead, keep an eye out for him—and marvel at how a simple doodle convinced the public to participate in one of the biggest mail-delivery revolutions in U.S. history.

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About USPS Stamps

The Postal Service™ is proud of its role in portraying the American experience to a world audience through the issuance of postage stamps and postal stationery. Each year the Postal Service issues commemorative stamps reflecting subjects of national significance and appeal. More than 160 years of stamp development has yielded an incredible archive of imagery and commentary reflecting American culture and society. Even in this fast-changing world, stamps are still a versatile and convenient method of postage. And stamp collecting is a lifetime hobby that is fun and educational for all ages. Stamp collecting is easy to start without a big investment. It is also a great way to learn about the world and its many wonders, opening the door to an exciting universe of history, science, geography, the arts, technology, and sports. Our mission is to provide universal service that is prompt, reliable, efficient, affordable, and self-sustaining. Throughout its history the Postal Service has grown with the nation, binding it together by ensuring that everyone, everywhere, has the same ability to communicate regardless of technological change.

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