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Initial United States postage rates were set by Congress as part of the Postal Service Act signed into law by President on February 20, 1892. The postal rate varied according to "distance zone", the distance a letter was to be carried from the post office where it entered the mail to its final destination. Rates were adopted in 1847 for mail to or from the Pacific Coast and in 1848 for mail sent from one place in the west to another place in the west. There were double and triple rates as a letter’s size increased. There were ship fees which were also added (i.e. mail to Hawaii). The ship fee, including the ship rate on letters for delivery at the port of entry, were on a per letter basis, rather than weight. The United States issued its first postage stamps in 1847. Before that time, the rates, dates and origin of the letter were written by hand or sometimes in combination with a handstamp device.
|Date Introduced||Rate for first ounce (Letter)||Rate for first ounce (Package)||Additional ounces||Postcard rate||Comments|
|March 3, 1863||.06 (.03 per half ounce)||.06||.06 (.03 per half ounce)||.02 per half ounce in drop boxes|
|October 1, 1883||.04 (.02 per half ounce)||.04||.04 (.02 per half ounce)|
|July 1, 1885||.02||.02||.02|
|November 2, 1917||.03||.03||.03||.02||War Years|
|July 1, 1919||.02||.02||.02||.01||Dropped back by Congress|
|July 1, 1928||.02||.02||.02||.01|
|July 6, 1932||.03||.03||.03||.01|
|January 1, 1952||.03||.03||.03||.02|
|August 1, 1958||.04||.04||.04||.03|
|January 7, 1963||.05||.05||.05||.04|
|January 7, 1968||.06||.06||.06||.05|
|May 16, 1971||.08||.08||.08||.06|
|March 2, 1974||.10||.10||.10||.08|
|September 14, 1975||.10||.10||.09||.07||Last surface mail rate|
|December 31, 1975||.13||.13||.11||.09||All domestic first class & postcards by airmail|
|May 29, 1978||.15||.15||.13||.10||A Stamp Used|
|March 22, 1981||.18||.18||.17||.12||B Stamp Used|
|November 1, 1981||.20||.20||.17||.13||C Stamp Used|
|February 17, 1985||.22||.22||.17||.14||D Stamp Used|
|April 3, 1988||.25||.25||.20||.15||E Stamp Used|
|February 3, 1991||.29||.29||.23||.19||F Stamp Used (also 4 cent F makeup rate stamp)|
|January 1, 1995||.32||.32||.23||.20||G Stamp Used (also 3 cent G makeup rate stamp)|
|January 10, 1999||.33||.33||.22||.20||H Stamp Used (also 1 cent H makeup rate stamp)|
|January 7, 2001||.34||.34||.21||.20||Nondenominated Stamps Used|
|July 1, 2001||.34||.34||.23||.21||Nondenominated Stamps Used|
|June 30, 2002||.37||.37||.23||.23||Flag and Antique Toy Stamps Used|
|January 8, 2006||.39||.39||.24||.24||Lady Liberty Flag Stamp Used|
|May 14, 2007||.41||1.13||.17||.26||Shape-based postage pricing introduced; Forever stamps introduced; different prices for letters and packages for the first time|
|May 12, 2008||.42||1.17||.17||.27||Price change announced February 11, 2008|
|May 11, 2009||.44||1.22||.17||.28||Price change announced February 10, 2009|
|April 17, 2011||.44||1.71 (3 oz)||.20 (letters)
|January 22, 2012||.45||1.95 (3 oz)||.20 (letters)
|January 27, 2013||.46||2.07 (3 oz)||.20 (letters)
|.33||Price change announced October 11, 2012|
|January 26, 2014||.49||2.32 (3 oz)||.21 (letters)
|.34||Price change announced September 25, 2013|
|May 31, 2015||.49||2.54 (3 oz)||.22 (letters)
|April 10, 2016||.47||2.54 (3 oz)||.21 (letters)
|.34||Price change announced February 25, 2016|
|January 22, 2017||.49||2.67 (3 oz)||.21 (letters)
|.34||Price change announced October 12, 2016|
Taking the above data and plotting it yields the graph shown to the right. The dark plot is the nominal issued price of the stamp and the light plot is the price adjusted for inflation and is shown in 2016 US cents.
This plot shows that, despite the rise in the nominal cost of a first-class stamp, the adjusted cost of the stamp has stayed relatively stable. The large jumps in the early 1900s are because a change by a single penny was large compared to the cost of the stamp. For example, the price increase from $0.02 to $0.03 on July 6, 1932 was a 50% increase in cost. Additionally, while the cost of the stamp itself remained fixed, the adjusted price in 2016 dollars was not fixed over time which added to larger jumps in adjusted prices.
Domestic parcel post service was adopted in 1913, 25 years after the Post Office had agreed to deliver international parcel post packages pursuant to the Universal Postal Union treaty and various bilateral agreements with other nations. Initially, there were no or few postal regulations governing packages mailed by parcel post. E.g., to construct a bank in Vernal, Utah, in 1916, a Salt Lake City company ascertained that the cheapest way to send 40 tons of bricks to the building was by parcel post.
Bulk postal rates were restructured in 1996:
In 2007, First Class Mail was restructured to include variable pricing based on size, not just on weight. Shape-based postage pricing is a form of dimensional weight. Also at that time, International Parcel Post air service was re-branded as Priority Mail International, and Parcel Post surface service was discontinued for international destinations.
Regular Air Mail service began in 1918 and over the years rates varied considerably depending on distance and technology. Domestic Air Mail, as a class of service, officially ended May 1, 1977. By that time all domestic First Class Mail was being dispatched by the most expeditious means, surface or air, whether or not the Air Mail postage had been paid.
During the summer of 2010 the USPS requested the Postal Regulatory Commission to raise the price of a first class stamp by 2 cents, from 44 cents to 46 cents, to take effect January 2, 2011. On September 30, 2010, the PRC formally denied the request, but the USPS filed an appeal with the Federal Court of Appeals in Washington DC.
On September 25, 2013, the USPS announced a 3 cent increase in the First Class postal rate, to be effective January 26, 2014, increasing the price of a stamp to 49 cents. Bulk mail, periodicals, and package service rates were also increased by 6 percent. A loss of US$5 billion during the 2013 fiscal year was the reason given for the increase.
The legislation which set the price to 49 cents was enacted as a temporary measure and as an "exigent surcharge for mailing products and services". However, this legislation was set to expire in April 2016. As a result, the Post Office retained one cent of the price change as a previously allotted adjustment for inflation, but the price of a first class stamp became 47 cents: for the first time in 97 years, the price of a stamp decreased.
Unions of the U.S. Postal Service:
Beecher, Henry W. and Anthony S. Wawrukiewicz. U.S. Domestic Postal Rates, 1872–2011. Bellefonte, Pa.: American Philatelic Society, 2011. ISBN 9780933580787