The zip codes you know today are something that we all use in our everyday lives, but the truth is that most of us don’t know much about these strange combinations of letters and numbers. The first thing you should know about the US ZIP code is that it’s simply a network of postal codes that the Postal Service in the United States uses to keep everything organized behind the scenes. In many postal services around the world, ZIP codes help to make sure that everything in a post office ends up at the right place.
The letters “ZIP” are actually an acronym which stand for the zone improvement plan, and was also chosen because the people who created the ZIP code felt that it made customers feel as though their mail was traveling faster and more efficiently when it’s sent using this system. While the basic ZIP code in America is made up of five numbers, there was an extended version of this code added to the mix in later years called ZIP +4. The system includes all the five digits of the ZIP code, including four extra digits after a hyphen, allowing mail to be sent to more precise locations.
Where Did the ZIP Code Come From?
A man called Robert Moon was responsible for developing the idea for ZIP codes when he was working as a postal inspector in Philadelphia. Though originally, the idea was to use nothing more than three digits to distinguish different places around the map, the idea gradually changed and evolved over time. Robert Moon died in 2001, and his ZIP code was 34748 at that time.
The postal service originally began using ZIP codes and postal codes for large cities in 1943. By the time the 1960s came around, the group needed a more general system, and 1963 brought with it the birth of the ZIP codes for the entire country. The numbers weren’t mandatory at that time, but eventually, the were made essential for specific types of mail.
A mascot called Mr. ZIP or Zippy was used throughout the 60s and 70s to encourage people to start using these codes more often. The character was drawn by the son of a postman called Harold Wilcox. He was the art director that worked for the Cunningham and Walsh agency for advertising, although he drew the mascot to make it look as though a child had drawn it.
How Do ZIP codes work?
Zip codes can seem confusing when you first start to come to terms with them. The first digit of a ZIP code in the USA is designed to represent a group of states in the country. There are maps that show how the numbers have been assigned throughout America to help organize and deliver post more efficiently. Over all, the first three digits of Zip codes are designed to determine which mail processing facility a letter or parcel should go to. In other words, the first three digits represents your sectional center. On the other hand, the following digits represent the address within a region.
When ZIP codes were handed out to places around the United States, the main town of a region would be the first one to receive zip codes, while remaining towns were given their number according to their alphabetic position. There are some places in the United States that are so remote they don’t have their own Zip code. Rural areas of the country don’t possess enough addresses to make a mail route reasonable, which is why a ZIP code isn’t necessary.
There are also smaller locations that have their own ZIP codes. For instance, the white house has a unique Zip code, so that the family of the president, and the president himself can receive mail in secret. Additionally, the world trade center also had its own ZIP code, and so did Saks Fifth Avenue – a store in New York.
Understanding ZIP Codes and Mapping:
Where Zip Codes get the most complicated, is that many people assume that they would be geographic in nature. However, the truth is that this was never their intended purpose. Instead, Zip codes were designed to help USPS to deliver mail around the country in the most efficient manner possible. There are some ZIP codes that spread across multiple states to make sure that delivery is as efficient as possible. Additionally, in many cases, addresses that are close to each other will have the same ZIP code, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that there are boundaries and borders to each ZIP code in the way you would expect.
Some ZIP codes have nothing to do with location. For instance, there’s a single ZIP code currently in use for all the mail sent to the US Navy.
What is the Postal Bar Code?
ZIP codes are typically translated by the US Postal Service into bar codes that can be printed onto the mail so that automated machines can sort them into the right locations. A bar code can either be printed by someone who’s sending the mail, or it can be provided when a letter or parcel is posted at a professional post office. The system uses OCR technology, although in some cases, human beings may still need to read and enter addresses.
Interestingly, if you send bulk mail, and you can print the barcode yourself, you might be able to get a discount on your postage prices, particularly if you have pre-sorted the mail. However, this process requires a lot more work than you might think. Professional mailing lists need to be standardized following a standardized system with CASS or Coding accuracy support system software that verifies that the ZIP code is correct with the +4 additions and a further two digits that identifies a specific delivery point.
Additionally, mail needs to be sorted into a format that allows up to an 11-digit ZIP code will about 150 mail pieces for every code. This means that sending out the right letters and parcels can be incredibly complicated. Over all, it’s best to leave your understanding of ZIP codes to the experts.