Notes from the Past

Montgomery Blair - Part I

Montgomery Blair (1813-1883) was a United States Postmaster General who will always be remembered as the driving force behind the formation of the Universal Postal Union.

He was born in Franklin County, Kentucky, the son of Francis Blair, who was a member of President Jackson's cabinet and the first owner of Blair House, Washington, D.C.

President Lincoln named him Postmaster General on March 9, 1861, and he held that position until his resignation in 1864.  He proved to be a first-rate reformer and organizer and he took over the Post Office department at a time when it was sadly in need of both.

Blair closed unnecessary post offices, introduced a new indelible ink for canceling stamps, established three classes of mail and set a standard rate for a letter up to one-half ounce regardless of distance, placed postmasters on salary instead of commission, introduced free city delivery in 1863, and set up a uniform money order system, according to Tyrrell (The Universal Postal Union:  Member and Stamps, Van Dahl Publications, 1974).  Blair is also credited with the idea of the railway post office and the concept of sorting mail enroute.

However is is for his efforts to establish order in the chaos of international mail handling that he is chiefly remembered.

In the 1860s the rate for a letter from the US to a foreign country was arrived at by a complicated procedure that had to take into account the US domestic rate, sea postage, transit rates assessed by countries through which the letter might have to pass, and the domestic rate of the country to which the letter was addressed!  No wonder international correspondence was drowning in a sea of bureaucratic confusion.

To be Continued

- Kenneth A. Wood
This is Philately - Volume One A-F
Van Dahl Publications 1982
Posted November 9, 2000

Index of 508 Notes from the Past

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