What the United States Postal Service (USPS) needs in 2020 is a strong advocate and champion who can lead a massive initiative to restore the American postal system to its former stature as an organization that is the pride and joy of the country.
That’s a tall order? Where do we find someone to bridge the future with the past, someone who has the charisma of Benjamin Franklin, who served as the first American postmaster general? Franklin was the only founding father to be labeled as a true “polymath.”
“Polymath” is a positive term that originated in ancient Greece to describe a person of “great and vast and varied learning,” one whose knowledge was “encyclopedic.” Hence, Franklin was placed in the same category with legends like Aristotle, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus and Albert Schweitzer...to name a few.
America’s 75th American postmaster general Louis DeJoy took the oath of office on June 15. He’s a North Carolina businessman from Greensboro, and the nation is hopeful he will bring joy and prosperity to the USPS.
His supporters say DeJoy has many of the same fully developed attributes as old Ben Franklin. Their talents as entrepreneurs, financial analysts, innovators, diplomats and political strategists are similar, although separated by a couple of centuries.
Franklin’s postal biography includes many years of service as colonial co-postmaster general for the British Crown.
It was a smart business move back then for a publisher like Franklin to also be in charge of the post office. Franklin received “franking privileges,” a carry-over custom from the British House of Commons.
Therefore, Franklin could send out mail “under his signature” without having to pay postage.
As the American colonies moved ever closer to declaring independence from Great Britain in the 1770s, Franklin subtly changed his franking signature, from “Free B. Franklin” to “B. Free Franklin.”
In 1774, the British Crown sensed Franklin’s true motives, and King George III ordered Franklin to be fired as colonial postmaster because he was “too sympathetic to the colonies.”
On July 26, 1775, the Continental Congress selected Franklin as the first postmaster general of the new, American postal service, giving him responsibility for all 72 post offices from Massachusetts to Georgia.
At age 70, Franklin was the oldest delegate to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776. A few months later, he was the chosen one to go to Paris and secure French support in the war with England. Franklin’s son-in-law Richard Bache stepped in as the next postmaster general.
The B. Free Franklin Post Office & Museum, located on historic Market Street in Philadelphia remains as the only active, colonial-themed post office operated by the USPS. It is a popular tourism destination, because clerks offer hand-cancelled stamps with the “B. Free Franklin” postmark that Franklin used.
The facility survived the 2011 “post office realignment and closure commission” report that recommended closure of B. Free Franklin. It was one of 203 post offices in Pennsylvania that were targeted for elimination.
Surely, today’s USPS needs to focus on efficiency through technology, but Louis DeJoy knows a thing or two about the draw of cultural and heritage tourism. Americans are a nostalgic breed, and the authenticity of the Franklin postal era simply must be preserved and protected.
One might ask: “What would Owney do?”
Perhaps the USPS needs to rebrand and animate Owney...for all of America to re-embrace and re-adopt in 2020.
Owney was a canine volunteer who reported for duty at the post office in Albany, N.Y., in 1888.