Drowning in mail and looking for a solution, over seventy years ago the USPS discovered and implemented a system to improve tracking. They started demanding a two-digit number between city and state on the address line of letters and parcels, which was a short-term fix; but the quantity of mail continued expanding. Five-digit codes were introduced within twenty years and made mandatory four years later: the first three digits send each piece of mail to a central sorting facility, where it is sorted according to the last two digits and sent to the appropriate post office for delivery.
As with many big initiatives, there was still the challenge of educating the public and helping them adopt the practice of adding numbers to the end of an address. Introduce Mr. Zip, accompanied by Ethel Merman performing ‘Zip-a-dee-doo-dah’ and bringing a friendly message to one and all. This little cartoon figure was so effective that now 95% of all addresses include the zip code, an amazing statistic. It goes to show you the impression of a marketing campaign in such a basic format for everyone to comprehend and enjoy.
Now, picture yourself trying to manage an ever-growing amount of mail and routing it correctly to millions of frequently-changing addresses every day. The challenge shifted to accuracy of address data, giving way to new solutions to be introduced. The first zip code directories were local, pencil-and-paper, affairs, ineffective, but the best thing available.
That quickly changed with the availability and power of computers, until today there are huge amounts of data accumulated in zip code databases nationally, internationally, for city and state levels and as part of every business or corporation. We can’t communicate without the location information they contain.
The national online zip code database constantly adds, updates, and verifies zip information for every person or business at every location in the country. Canada has a comparable setup; other countries have varying coverage. International corporations have them. To name just a sample, many businesses, hospitals, and educational institutes develop and use zip code directories.
There is a wide scope of capabilities that online databases provide in the zip code world. By accessing information from around the country from so many different sources, changes are quickly synched up and missing information or new addresses are added with ease. This first-time correct delivery gets mail to the right place more quickly and saves millions of dollars every year in the process.
There are zip code maps of all sorts, zip code ‘finder’ software, zip code directories, and online zip code search engines. We’ve come a long way from the Pony Express rider riding hard to deliver his cargo!