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A Chronology of the United States Postal Inspection Service
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1737

Benjamin Franklin, as the Postmaster at Philadelphia, is assigned the additional duties of "regulating the several Post Offices and bringing the Officers to account." This is the forerunner of the duties of a Postal Inspector.

Benjamin Franklin


1772

Under the colonial postal system, Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin creates the new position of “Surveyor” to handle regulating Post Offices and auditing postal accounts. Surveyors become the first Postal Inspectors, and are also required to investigate thefts of mail or postal funds, often by a rider, innkeeper or other person entrusted with the US Mail.


1775

Under the Second Continental Congress, William Goddard becomes the first Surveyor of the American postal system. We trace the beginning of the United States Postal Inspection Service to August 7, 1775 – the earliest recorded date that William Goddard served as the first Surveyor General of Post Roads.

Postal Inspection Service Birthdate


William Goddard


1792

Congress imposes the death penalty for stealing mail.


1801

Title of Surveyor changed to Special Agent.


1812

Special Agents observe and report on movements of the British fleet on the Potomac River during the War of 1812.

(Image Courtesy: warfarehistorynetwork.com)

Rear Admiral George Cockburn’s British forces burn and plunder Havre de Grace, Maryland, in May 1813.

1828

Noah Webster, one of the first Surveyors, publishes his dictionary.

Appletons' Webster Noah

1830

A separate Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations was formed to be the investigative and inspection branch of the Post Office Department. By then, laws and regulations were being enacted by Congress which made certain violations against the United States postal system federal crimes.


1835

Preston S. Loughborough is placed in charge of this new branch which was the predecessor to the Office of the Chief Postal Inspector.


1853

The number of Special Agents grows to 18. Assigned to specific territories, their duties include reporting on the conditions of horses, stagecoaches, railroads, steamboats and other conveyances used to transport the mail; visiting mail distributing offices; and examining postal accounts.

25 cent Stagecoach Stamp


1861

Special Agents supervise the transportation and delivery of mail to Union troops during the Civil War.


1872

Mail Fraud Statute is enacted Congress to combat a rash of swindles by mail which erupted after the Civil War.


1873

Congress enacts the Postal Obscenity Statute based on the urging of Special Agent Anthony Comstock.

Special Agent Anthony Comstock


1874

The total number of Special Agents jumps to 63; to improve organizational effectiveness, the country is divided into six divisions each headed up by a Special Agent.


1880

Special Agents become known as Post Office Inspectors after a law is passed by Congress. The change is to differentiate the federal postal agents from the multitude of other “special agents” employed by railway and stagecoach companies.

U.S. Post Office Department Inspector Badge


1880

“Green Goods” swindles are exposed. Congress strengthens the Mail Fraud statute to protect citizens from bogus offers in the mail.


1881

Inspectors interview “Billy the Kid” in connection with a mail robbery in Santa Fe, NM.


1888

Total number of Inspectors grows to 75 spread out over 12 divisions. Inspectors now placed under new Civil Service system.


1898

Postal Inspector John Clum is appointed as special commissioner to Alaska "to examine into postal affairs." During the Gold Rush, Clum established Post Offices throughout the Alaska Territory.


1908In Clinton, MS, Charles Fitzgerald is the first Post Office Inspector killed in the line of duty.


1909Inspectors investigate and arrest 14 suspected members of the "Black Hand," a secret society of criminals who attempt to extort money from Italian immigrants by sending them threatening letters.U.S. Post Office Department Inspector Badge


1916

The last known robbery of a horse-drawn mail stage is solved by Post Office Inspectors, who apprehend the bandits within five days of the crime.


1920

Inspectors investigate and help convict Charles Ponzi, the father of illegal pyramid schemes. Ponzi promised a 50 percent return on investments from profits made by redeeming international reply coupons, even after he learned the coupons could not be redeemed for cash. Only his earliest investors profited, because they were paid from funds collected from later investors.


1927

Post Office Inspectors successfully conclude a 3 ½-year, worldwide manhunt for three train bandits known as the De Autremont brothers. The brothers killed four men and blew up a mail car, which they mistakenly thought was carrying half a million dollars in gold.

DeAutremont Brothers Reward Poster


1940

The first of five Postal Inspection Service forensic laboratories is established, in Washington, DC.

Historic photo from crime lab


1941The Post Office Department completes its most valuable delivery — more than $9 billion in gold bullion sent from the U.S. Assay Office in New York to underground vaults in Fort Knox, KY. Post Office Inspectors plan the movement and protection of the bullion, which is sent by registered mail. The Department takes six months to complete the delivery, using 45 specially guarded trains and earning $1.8 million in postage and fees.


1941Post Office Inspectors organize the mail system for the military during World War II. The system is so efficient that even front-line troops expect mail delivery as normal procedure.


1947

Jesse M. Donaldson, the Chief Post Office Inspector, is appointed Postmaster General.


1954

The title "Postal Inspector" is first officially used.

Postal Inspector Badge


1958

When New York jeweler Harry Winston donates the Hope Diamond to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, he sends the precious jewel via registered mail. Postal Inspectors ensure that the gem arrives safely at its destination.


1970

The Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act makes it illegal to use the mail "to transmit or facilitate the manufacture, distribution, disbursing, or possession" of illegal drugs.

Postal Inspector Badge
Postal Police Officer Badge


1971

The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 transforms the Bureau of the Chief Postal Inspector into the “United States Postal Inspection Service.” A uniformed security force is added to assist in carrying out the Inspection Service’s mission. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service becomes one of the first federal law enforcement agencies to hire female agents.

U.S. Postal Inspection Service Bulletin Cover


Text-only version of the Chronology of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service