The Postmaster Finder database was created in 1986. Since that time, it has served as the Postal Service’s national record of postmasters by Post Office. Pre-1986 information is researched and added to the Postmaster Finder database upon request.
Note: It was common for Post Offices to undergo name changes, and the boundaries and names of the counties, states, and territories where Post Offices were located also sometimes changed. In Postmaster Finder, offices are listed under their current or final name and location. (Exception: offices that were discontinued in Indian Territory are listed in Oklahoma.)
Postmaster Finder primarily serves as a record of the individuals who have served as postmaster at a particular Post Office. Names of officers-in-charge are included only when they served between two different postmasters.
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The U.S. Postal Service traces its origin to July 26, 1775, when Benjamin Franklin was appointed the first American Postmaster General by the Continental Congress. For that reason, July 26, 1775, is considered the establishment date of the first U.S. Post Offices. For further information, see First U.S. Post Offices by State and also First U.S. Post Offices: Research Challenges and Sources of Information.
Since 1986, information in Postmaster Finder has been updated primarily using copies of PS Form 8020, Report of Installation (Postmaster or Officer-In-Charge), received from field personnel; postmaster appointment lists provided by Human Resources; and the Post Office Changes sections in the Postal Bulletin.
From 1971 to 1986, information is sourced from record cards of postmaster appointments located in the USPS Historian’s office.
Prior to 1971, the primary sources of information are National Archives Microfilm Publication M1131, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, October 1789 - 1832, and M841, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832 - September 30, 1971. The Postal Bulletin, the Official Register of the United States, and the Journals of the Postmaster General, along with various lists, tables, and directories of Post Offices, are sometimes used in conjunction with the Record of Appointment of Postmasters.
Further sources of information are discussed in Publication 119 , Sources of Historical Information on Post Offices, Postal Employees, Mail Routes and Mail Contractors.
See Publication 119 , Sources of Historical Information on Post Offices, Postal Employees, Mail Routes and Mail Contractors, for a discussion of sources of historical information on postmasters and Post Offices.
If an application to establish a Post Office exists in postal records, it would be filed among the site location reports for the Post Office at the National Archives.
The National Personnel Records Center, Civilian Records Facility (NPRC-CPR) maintains and will furnish by mail extant personnel records for federal employees whose service ended after about 1910. Researchers requesting records from the center should provide the full name of the employee, date of birth, Social Security number if known, name of agency where last employed, and place and approximate dates of employment.
Site location reports of Post Offices, available from the National Archives, give a general idea of Post Office locations, mostly from the mid-1840s to the mid-1940s. Local libraries and historical societies, county courthouse records, and contemporary newspapers may also be sources of information on past Post Office locations.
The National Archives’ Web site provides general information on Post Office names and naming policy as does the paper What’s in a (Post Office) Name?. Post Office names were typically suggested by prospective patrons; there are no postal records that explain their origin.
Generally, a Post Office’s establishment date is the date of appointment of its first postmaster. Typically there was up to a two-month delay between the appointment of a postmaster and his or her first day in office. For example, Alfred Hunnewell, appointed as the first postmaster of the Columbia, California, Post Office on September 15, 1852, took office on November 16, 1852. Less typically – for example, at the Sacramento, California, Post Office – the first postmaster began serving before his appointment was officially recognized in Washington.
From 1836 to 1971, postmasters at the larger Post Offices were appointed by the President, by and with the consent of the Senate. Postmasters earning less than $1,000 per year were appointed by the Postmaster General, generally upon the advice of the local congressman or townspeople. Regulations required that postmasters execute a valid bond and take an oath of office. Minors were ineligible, and U.S. citizenship was required for appointment to all but the smallest Post Offices. Since 1971, postmasters have been selected through the merit system.
Women have served as postmasters since the Revolutionary War and even earlier, under British rule. “Postmaster,” and not “postmistress,” always has been their official title. For more information, see Women Postmasters.
Postmaster Finder contains only some of the information that is available prior to 1986. Additional data are continually being added. It is estimated that it will take about 28 more work years to research every Post Office.
Citizens of a community who desired a new Post Office generally submitted a request to the Post Office Department stating reasons why they thought a Post Office should be established, the number of patrons who would be served, and the names proposed for the Post Office. Other factors considered were the nearness of existing postal units and the relative cost involved, including the estimated expense of mail transportation to the proposed office.
According to the 1897 Annual Report of the Postmaster General, “In cases where an office ceases to be a public necessity, or it is impossible to secure a suitable postmaster, the office is discontinued. . . . ” The number of Post Offices peaked in 1901 at 76,945; the number sharply declined in the ensuing decade, due to the spread of rural free delivery. Changes in demographics and transportation patterns have contributed to a gradual decline in the number of Post Offices. At the end of the fiscal year 2020, there were 26,362 independent Post Offices.