Postal Reorganization

By the mid-1960s, the Post Office Department had deep problems due to years of financial neglect and fragmented control in the areas of facilities, equipment, wages and management efficiency. Highly subsidized rates bore little relation to costs.

In October 1966, the Chicago Post Office ground to a virtual halt under a mountain of mail. In less than a week, the logjam was broken, but so was confidence in the status quo.

During February 1967 hearings before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Treasury-Post Office, Postmaster General Lawrence F. O’Brien said that the Department was in a “race with catastrophe.” O’Brien described the crisis:


At the peak of the crisis in Chicago, ten million pieces of mail were logjammed. The sorting room floors were bursting with more than 5 million letters, parcels, circulars, and magazines that could not be processed. Outbound mail sacks formed small grey mountain ranges while they waited to be shipped out.

Our new and beleaguered Chicago postmaster summed it up pretty well when he said: “We had mail coming out of our ears.”

What happened in Chicago to cause the crisis? The answer is not that something specific happened in 1966, but that enough did not happen in the previous 33 years. … we are trying to move our mail through facilities largely unchanged since the days of Jim Farley when our mail volume was 30 percent of what it is today.45


After O’Brien spoke, Oklahoma Congressman Tom Steed, chairman of the subcommittee, asked:


… would this be a fair summary: that at the present time, as the manager of the Post Office Department, you have no control over your workload, you have no control over the rates of revenue, you have no control over the pay rates of the employees that you employ, you have very little control over the conditions of the service of these employees; you have virtually no control, by the nature of it, of your physical facilities and you have only a limited control, at best, over the transportation facilities that you are compelled to use all of which adds up to a staggering amount of “no control” in terms of the duties you have to perform.46


The answer was yes. Congress, the President, and the Post Office Department moved to improve this situation.