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A Chronology of the United States Postal Inspection Service
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Benjamin Franklin, Postmaster of Philadelphia under the British, is given the task of “regulating the several post offices and bringing the postmasters to account.”

Benjamin Franklin


The position of “Surveyor” is created, with Hugh Finlay named "Surveyor of Post roads on the Continent of North America" by the British postmasters general. During 1773–1774 Finlay inspects Post Offices and post roads from Maine to Georgia. 


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


Congress imposes the death penalty for stealing mail.


The title "Special Agent" is used.



Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations is established as the investigative branch of the Post Office Department.


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

25 cent Stagecoach Stamp


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


The first postal obscenity statute is enacted by Congress, making it a punishable offense to mail a "book, pamphlet, picture, print, or other publication" known to be "of a vulgar and indecent character."



Congress enacts the first mail fraud statute to combat an outbreak of swindles using the mail. Congress also broadens the postal obscenity statute, to ban obscene envelopes and postal cards from the mail.


The postal obscenity statute is broadened again with the passage of the Comstock Act, named for its strongest proponent, special agent Anthony Comstock. The Comstock Act prohibits the mailing of items or information relating to contraception or abortion and also prohibits receiving such items with intent to distribute.

Special Agent Anthony Comstock


The Postmaster General changes the title "Special Agent" to "Post Office Inspector."


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


1909 Inspectors 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



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.


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.


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


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.


1941 Post 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.



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


The title "Postal Inspector" is first officially used.

Postal Inspector Badge


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.


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


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