On this day in 1776, Congress chooses Richard Bache to succeed his father-in-law, Benjamin Franklin, as postmaster general. Franklin had sailed for France on behalf of the Continental Congress the previous month.
Benjamin Franklin invested nearly 40 years in the establishment of a reliable system of private communications in the American colonies. He was appointed postmaster of Philadelphia in 1737 and then as joint postmaster general of the colonies, a position he held from 1753 to 1774, when he was fired for opening and publishing Massachusetts Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s correspondence. While postmaster, Franklin streamlined postal delivery with properly surveyed and marked routes from Maine to Florida (this route later became Route 1), instituted overnight postal travel between the critical cities of New York and Philadelphia and created a standardized rate chart based upon weight and distance.
In 1774, Franklin’s baton was passed temporarily to William Goddard, a printer. Goddard was frustrated that the royal postal service was unable to reliably deliver his Pennsylvania Chronicle to its readers or critical news for the paper to him. Thus, he laid out a plan for a “Constitutional Post” before the Continental Congress on October 5, 1774. Congress waited to act on the plan until after the Battle of Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. Benjamin Franklin promoted Goddard’s plan and served as the first postmaster general under the Continental Congress beginning July 26, 1775, nearly one year before Congress declared independence from the British crown. Franklin’s son-in-law, Richard Bache, took over the position on this day in 1776, after Franklin became an American emissary to France.
Samuel Osgood held the postmaster general position in New York City from 1789, when the U.S. Constitution came into effect, until the government moved to Philadelphia in 1791. Timothy Pickering took over then and, about a year later, the passing of the Postal Service Act gave his post greater legislative legitimacy and more effective organization. Pickering continued in the position until 1795, when he briefly served as secretary of war, before becoming the third U.S. secretary of state. The postmaster general’s position was considered a plum patronage post for political allies of the president until the Postal Service was transformed into a corporation run by a board of governors in 1971.