Mr. Zip: The 1960s Post Office Icon
Zip codes, or Zoning Improvement Plan codes was a concept that evolved out of the delivery codes first put into practice in 1943. These were 2-digit codes following city names in mailing addresses to indicate postal zones within the cities meant to speed up delivery. Mail volume in the U.S. had increased from 28 billion pieces in 1940 to roughly 33 billion pieces by 1943 and was further complicated by the inexperience of the workforce since many postal workers had been sent to fight in the war and were being replaced in post offices by new workers. Postal codes were created to improve the accuracy of the sorting and delivery processes, thereby improving delivery times.
By the early 1960s the mail volume in the U.S. had doubled its 1943 figures, so the Postmaster General, James Edward Day decided the simpler 2-digit code system needed to be revamped. 5-digit zip codes were developed as part of the Zone Improvement Plan in the 1960s and they went into use in 1963.
Where the 2-digit city codes introduced in 1943 were readily accepted, the new 5-digit zip codes were not received as well. Enter Mr. Zip. A character was created by Howard Wilcox in the 1950s for the Chase Manhattan Bank to encourage banking by mail. By the 1960s the design was in the possession of the American Telephone and Telegraph Company (AT&T) who encouraged the Postal Dept. to modify the design to promote the new zip code system, having themselves experienced reluctance when first introducing area codes. The design was offered at no cost, so the Postal Dept. took heed of the warning and put their new mascot to work.
The original bank ad character was tweaked somewhat, giving him a longer body and sometimes having him appear with a letter in one hand. He started his work for the Postal Dept. as “Mr. P.O. Zone” and later had a name change to the more easily remembered “Mr. Zip.”
The Post Office Department was removed as a U.S. Cabinet department in 1971 when President Richard Nixon signed the Postal Reorganization Act. Postal service has since been conducted by the independent United States Postal Service (USPS).
Mr. Zip was gradually phased out beginning in the 1970s, beginning with nearly complete compliance with the use of zip codes on addresses. The Postal Department mascot was no longer needed to push compliance with the code. Good thing, since ZIP+4 began in 1983, with four digits added to the typical five-digit zip code. As the U.S. population continues to grow I would imagine there will be even more digits added in the future. Perhaps Mr. Zip will be called upon once again!