While it was given the laugh when it has been introduced by an English Schoolmaster, the civil world now gives honor to the postage stamp, the friend of humanity, on its 172 years.
Not since the days of printing had there, the first postage stamp was launched in England on May 6th, 1840. That date in all history marks the beginning of popular communication, placing within the reach of the poorest peasant the way of writing to friends and family members. It put the people of the globe towards closer relationship, it promoted the art of writing and it spread civilization.
Millions of people in this world to day receive letters, tear open the envelopes and seldom look at the stamp, and should they do so, the pretty piece of paper might represent to them but the price of transmission.
An incident in accordance with its inauguration is interesting to relate, Rowland Hill, the schoolmaster had been passing through a rural district of northern England. At one hotel where he stayed over night, the postman came along with a letter for one of the girls employed by the hotel owner. The girl had taken the letter from the carrier’s hand and after looking it over handed it returning to him saying that she didn’t have the one-shilling to pay for its carriage. We might point out here that about this period (1835-40) the postal charges had been ‘Cash on Delivery’. Hill being of a generous heart paid the postman the postage and the letter was duly delivered. Once the carrier had left the girl turned to Hill and thanked him for his kindness, but at the same time advised him that his action was completely unneeded. She and her brother had arranged a code which was put on the outside of the cover and she had read the brief message when she had first taken it from the hand of the postman.
Hill was surprised as such a fraud drafted a system to beat them. This hastily prepared basis is the forerunner of the present day world postal system, and the secret of their success; prepayment of postage by postage stamps.
Having confident himself, he had to convince the people. In the year 1837 he made a study of the statistical reports of the postal “system” and the next year published a booklet “The Post Office Reform” in which he recommended a one-penny rate for any letters with a weight under one ounce, that were addressed for shipping in the United Kingdom. Before this time, and the same was true of all other nations; the rates of postal charges were depending on the distance schedule. Now along came a schoolmaster who said to be able to place in use a one-penny rate when the one then in use was a one-shilling, 12 times more.
As soon as the first roars of laughed had rolled away there are some who came up forward and honestly agreed with him. Which was enough. Now he had to spring the payment plan on Parliament.
The government was slow to understand the farsightedness of this gentleman, and even resented the interference as he held no office within the British government. The people and some newspapers started elevating Hill and his system. The Parliament gave solution to accept his recommendations.
He claimed that the expensive mail service was directly due to disorders of the mail service, such as reckoning the charges by the quantity of sheets contained in an cover and rated by the mileage schedule, and collecting the fees from the addressee.
In his booklet he considered necessary of the one-penny rate, and “any difficulties in that plan”, to quote the booklet, “might be easily settled by using a bit of paper just big enough to bear the stamp and having on the reverse side some sort of glutinous substance which when moistened would hold the stamp to the back of the envelope”.
The invention of the postage stamp dates from his reasonably innovative advice.
January 10th, 1840, saw the penny postage rate effective in Britain, but it was a few months later, May 6th 1840, hundred and seventy two years back, that the first postage stamp was place in use.
Roland Hill was knighted for his efforts and got a gift of nine thousand pounds sterling regarding his work, raised by public subscription, apart from a big job in the post office department. In 1854 he was made chief secretary and was retired in 1864. After his retirement he published many books on his research. A brief history of the Penny Post was one of these.
This ends the story of Sir Rowland Hill, but let us says a word of the postal activities with regards to the new postal system.
In 1839 the letters carried totaled 76,000,000; and in 1840, 169,000,000. Because of the reduced rates the postal income fell from pounds 478,000 to pounds 278,000 and the net profit from pounds 326,000 to pound 100,000. It was over 10 years before receipts again totaled those of 1839, however the number of letters carried increased continuously, reaching 350,000,000 in 1850.