How that Mr. ZIP Changed Chattanooga's Mail

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - by Harmon Jolley
Zone reference manual for Chattanooga addresses.  The zone code preceded the ZIP Code.
Zone reference manual for Chattanooga addresses. The zone code preceded the ZIP Code.

Someone whom I’ve known since elementary school celebrated his fiftieth birthday this week.  On July 1, Mr. ZIP reached the half-century mark.    His invention brought efficiency changes to the U.S. Postal System, and altered the addresses of Chattanooga area mail.

Mr. ZIP, a bug-eyed, uniformed postal carrier, was a cartoon figure used in promoting the 1963 implementation of ZIP Codes.   Mr. ZIP appeared in public service announcements on television channels and in newspapers.   At the end of ZIP commercials, a voiceover announcer said, “Mail moves the country.  ZIP Codes move the mail.”

Mail had been moving to and from the Chattanooga area for some time.  According to an April 14, 1962 “Looking Backward” column of the Chattanooga Times, we had mail service dating back to an initial route between the two Tennessee towns of Washington and Jasper.  Along the way, the mail wagon stopped at Smith’s Crossroads (later called Dayton), Sale Creek, Soddy, Dallas, Smithfield, and Oakes Landing before reaching Ross’ Landing.

In 1943, the United States Post Office Department introduced two-digit postal zone codes to be used in routing mail in large cities.  Chattanooga had its own set of zone codes.  I grew up in St. Elmo, which was zone 9.  The proper way to write my address was “Chattanooga 9, Tenn.”

With a growing volume of mail to be sorted, a more precise coding system was needed.  Enter the 5-digit ZIP codes, part of the Zone Improvement Plan.  “ZIP” should always be capitalized, for it is an acronym of that plan.

 In a 1963 Chattanooga Times article, Local Postmaster O. Milligan announced that Chattanooga would be assigned a ZIP prefix of 374.  The left-most digit of the ZIP Code corresponded to one of ten national service areas.  Each digit further subdivided the area, so that mail could be routed efficiently.    The prefix would be followed by the existing zone code.  So, St. Elmo became 37409.

At the same time, state abbreviations were standardized into the two-character format still used today.  So, “Tenn.” changed to “TN” in the new convention. 

The July 1, 1963 Chattanooga Times reported, “U.S. Mails Begin ZIP Code System.”   That same day, the Post Office Department ranked higher than anyone in generating mail.  There were seventy-two million notification cards mailed to the public with instructions on the ZIP for their area, how to use the new code system, and benefits of speedier mail delivery.  The Zone Improvement Plan was coupled with a large investment in electronic mail sorting equipment.

Under the new program, Chattanooga’s postal workers excelled.  The December 24, 1965 Times reported that the local service had placed second in an efficiency contest within the three-state region of TN, MS, and AL.  Mr. ZIP must have been smiling at the news.

To provide help to those struggling to find the correct ZIP Codes for their mail, the Post Office provided “ZIP-a-List” cards in a mass mailing to the public.  The October, 18, 1966 Chattanooga News-Free Press reported that an average six hundred ZIP-a-List cards a day were being processed by the mail workers.  A person filled out and mailed a card with an address for which he or she needed a ZIP Code.  The Post Office Department returned the card with the correct ZIP Code.  Local Postmaster Frank Moore said that a special phone number for ZIP Code information had been set up at the post office.

ZIP Codes were not universally accepted when introduced.  According to one of my relatives, some of the neighbors felt that ZIP Codes, along with new 7-digit phone numbers, were a Communist plot.   However, ZIP Codes eventually became a familiar step in mailing everything.   For precise routing of mail, the original 5-digit ZIP Code has grown to 9 or, in some types of mailings, 12 digits.  ZIP Codes are often used in market research to group data by region.

Recently, I was purchasing stamps at an automated kiosk at the post office.   I noticed that Mr. ZIP  has made a return appearance.  His image was one of the choices that I had for the type of stamps to print on demand.  Of course, I walked away with a couple of books of computer-printed Mr. ZIP stamps.   Good to see that my old friend has changed with the times.

If you have memories of the introduction of ZIP Codes, please send me an e-mail at jolleyh@bellsouth.net.    Sorry, Mr. ZIP – e-mail is just quicker for some things.

 

1960 advertisement showing the zone code form of an address.  The ZIP Code for this business was 37409.
1960 advertisement showing the zone code form of an address. The ZIP Code for this business was 37409.

3 First Edition Chattanooga Story Books By John Wilson Available

Three first edition Chattanooga's Story books by John Wilson have become available. They are $55 each, plus $6 postage and handling. Mr. Wilson, former Hamilton County Historian, has written two volumes on the early families of Hamilton County and also books on Chattanooga and on Lookout Mountain, as well as editing books on Chattanooga's railroads and the Stokes and Hiener ... (click for more)

Barnes Family Included Mill Operator, Relic Hunter

Jacob Barnes operated a mill on the Tennessee River in the vicinity of Soddy Creek for over 60 years. He fathered 15 children by two wives,and many of his descendants are still at Soddy-Daisy. Jacob Barnes was born in 1819 and he apparently lost his father at an early age. He was taken in by Major Robert C. McRee, who was one of Soddy's leading citizens. Major McRee sent him ... (click for more)

Man Wanted For Ohio Murder Taken Into Custody At Ooltewah Residence

A man wanted for a murder in Ohio has been taken into custody at a residence in Ohio. Frank Charles Mosier, 30, was charged Friday with a 2016 slaying during a robbery. Authorities on Sunday afternoon got word that Mosier was at 9133 Pleasant Lane, which is off Ooltewah-Georgetown Road. Multiple deputies went to the residence after reports that Mosier was armed and dangerous. ... (click for more)

Pair Arrested In Connection With Lookout Mountain Vehicle Thefts, Break-Ins

Police on Lookout Mountain said two arrests have been made tied to the theft of  two vehicles stolen from a home in Lookout Mountain, Ga., last week.   In connection to the vehicle thefts, seven other vehicles were entered and several items were stolen. Lookout Mountain, Ga., Chief Todd Gann said, "Early  Wednesday  morning, a Georgia resident noticed ... (click for more)

Do Something To Protect Our Children

It is unconscionable in this day and age that these children had to exist in such deplorable conditions and that an innocent baby suffered and died alone in a locked car.  Yes, there is blame and accountability considering this family had child neglect charges filed a few years ago (that were apparently dropped and expunged) and a large part of the responsibility should ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Not Many Know This

The best story of the summer – by far – came out of Panama City over the Fourth of July weekend when over 80 total strangers on a Panama City beach responded to screams. Two boys, ages 14 and 11, were caught in a rip tide and all of these “angels” quickly formed a human chain -- over 80 people with their arms locked -- to stretch out in the water, reach those kids and tug them out ... (click for more)