Short History of the Post Office
Street Address History
The practice of governments assigning street addresses arose not from the need to provide accurate mail delivery as much as the need to create a system to collect taxes, take censuses and record males eligible for conscription into the military. The practice has its European roots in the first known system devised in Augsburg, Germany in the 16th Century. A similar system arose in France during this same period. House numbering systems emerged in sporadic bursts in France, England and Germany over the next couple of centuries, however it did not become common practice until about the middle of the 18th Century. There is evidence that the people resisted the assignment of house numbers during this era. Numerous accounts exist of residents smearing freshly painted house numbers with mud and filth in an attempt to thwart the new system.
In the United States
One of the earliest systems in the United States was in New York when apparently the British attempted to impose a system sometime after they captured the city in 1776. Philadelphia apparently led the effort after the revolution when they devised the system of odd numbers on one side of the street and even numbers on the others. They came up with this system in order to conduct the first census in 1790. One problem city planners had was that construction of new buildings after addresses for a city street had been assigned. This often necessitated the need to renumber an entire street Philadelphia also devised the decimal system in 1856, a system that assigned 100 numbers to each city block and made street numbering and renumbering much easier. Cities across the United States quickly adopted these systems. The need for accurate mail delivery sped the process of address assignment after the Post Office adopted free city delivery policies during the Civil War. In the United States there is no national system of assigning street numbers, though most use the even/odd system and decimal system. Address assignment systems can vary considerably across the nation. The development of the 911 emergency system in 1968 led to the elimination of the use of the rural route system of addressing houses and the assignation of individual house numbers for rural residences as a means to allow emergency personnel to find houses quickly.
© 2020 Paul Wonning