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Postal pinch

Published July 27. 2011 05:02PM

Whenever present-day technology - which accelerates by the day - clashes with history, it leaves us with an empty feeling.

One important thread of history that students in this area should become aware of at an early age is that Benjamin Franklin, one of the Founding Fathers of the U.S., came to New Gnadenhuetten - present-day Weissport - in order to design and build Fort Allen to protect the settlement against the hostile Indians in 1756.

Yesterday, we learned that the post office building that Franklin once owned in the historic Old City section of Philadelphia is on the list of 203 post office branches in the state that could be closed by the financially-strapped Postal Service.

Last year, the Postal Service lost $8 billion and projections over the next decade show that sea of debt getting deeper. That has forced the Postal Service to look at about 3,650 post offices - many in rural areas - for possible closing.

The primary reason for the deepening financial woes is Americans' need for speed or in a word, the Internet. Four years ago, the post office was handling 213 billion pieces of mail a year. Last year, that total dropped to 177 billion.

The number of Internet (and email) users directly parallel that dramatic decline. Today, 86 percent of the 12-to-29 generation are online, and even a third of the people over the age of 65 are using the Internet.

The postal service, which has already closed 280 offices this year, can never hope to match the speed of email. But, while the Internet does offer mouse-click speed, it cannot provide the type of personal interaction one finds at local post offices, which have long been an informal meeting hub in small communities across the nation.

The building that houses the Ben Franklin post office even has an upstairs postal museum. That's only fitting since he was our nation's first postmaster general. Under his leadership, more direct mail delivery routes were established, which dramatically increased delivery service. The post offices of the day were often inns, taverns and coffee houses where the parcels and letters were dropped off for the residents of that locale.

Another interesting fact about Franklin is that he wrote and received thousands of pieces of correspondence. He placed a high value on written communication as well as personal contact. That was evident with his hands-on approach in building a defensive fort at New Gnadenhuetten over two-and-and-half centuries ago.

Hopefully, the value that Franklin also placed on composing a well-constructed handwritten letter will not be lost to the grammatically-and-spell-challenged writers of the twitter generation.

By Jim Zbick

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