Over the past sixty years, boomers have witnessed dramatic changes in how mail has been sent, how much it costs, and the movement away from printed and mailed to online, mobile and email delivery. On July 1, 1963, the United States Postal Service introduced the Zip Code system. At the time, it was the most affecting change to the postal system that boomers would experience (see Mister B’s earlier post: The Post Office, It Is a ‘Changin’). This week, the USPS announced an increase in the cost of the first-class stamp to 66 cents. Not an earth-shattering situation in itself, but when you look at the number of times postage has been increased during the lifetimes of boomers, it is a fascinating stat.
When stamps were first issued in 1863, the cost of first class postage was three cents. That dropped to two cents by 1885, but rose back to three in 1917. Fast forward to the beginning of the boomer years in 1946 and the first-class stamp cost was still three cents! It was 1958 before the cost rose by a penny. During the boomer years, fist-class postage rose on average two or three cents every five years. So in 1963, the stamp was five cents; in 1968 it rose to six cents; in 1971 it was eight cents; in 1974 it broke double digits at 10 cents. The rise every two to three years by two or three cents continued into the early 2000s. The price of a stamp, which went relatively unchanged for the sixty years before the beginning 0f the Baby Boom has now increased to more than 10 times it’s cost at the end of the Baby Boom.
As boomers, we licked stamps for our parents to mail bills, birthday cards, Christmas cards, letters to family or family members in the service overseas. The glue had a specific taste that boomers will remember, and is yet another experience that that defines the difference between boomers and generations that followed. The USPS issued the first self-adhesive stamps in 1974, so while some Millennials may remember licking stamps as a child, stamps with glue on the back were on the way out by the time they would be helping their parents affix stamps to envelopes.
Another way to view the cost differential is to look at a boomer sending Christmas cards to friends in 1968. That year, mailing ten cards would cost 60 cents, which was less than the national minimum wage for one hour’s work. This year, for a boomer to mail ten cards to friends or family, that cost will be $6.60. Relatively speaking, it is still a bargain to send a letter or card across the country.
The number of letters and cards mailed by boomers — and indeed all generations — has been decreasing every year since the dawn of the internet. Sixty years ago we could not envision that we might be “visiting” friends and family face to face on a screen, whether they lived one city over, across the country or on the other side of the world — it was the stuff of science fiction. Boomers grew up sending and receiving hand-written letters. For many boomers, though, the technological changes, especially of the past decade, have been a welcome convenience that has accelerated the reasons not to send cards and letters.
How about you, boomers? Do you still mail bills? Do you send birthday cards to grandkids, nieces and nephews? When was the last time you received a hand-written note from someone?