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The History of Collection Mailboxes

Shortly after stamps were introduced, the public expressed interest in having a more convenient place to drop off mail than their local post office. In response, the Post Office Department began installing public collection mailboxes outside post offices and on busy street corners of large cities, starting in the 1850s. These early collection mailboxes were typically mounted on lampposts; a Philadelphia iron manufacturer named Albert Potts patented the design in 1858. But mail volume quickly grew, so the Post Office Department began replacing the mounted boxes with larger, free-standing mailboxes in 1894. In the 1930s, the design of collection mailboxes was altered to accommodate increasing automobile use by including an extension chute so that people in cars could easily deposit their mail. Public postal collection boxes have remained the standard ever since and are typically painted a recognizable blue color. However, the U.S. Postal Service has removed many of these once-ubiquitous blue collection mailboxes in recent years. Many of them were removed in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and subsequent anthrax attacks. In 2020, the removal of a large number of collection mailboxes sparked concerns over voting and mail access in disproportionately affected communities. While there have been significant reductions in their numbers, postal collection boxes are still in use by the U.S. Postal Service today.

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