the death of letter writing

6e3dc8d8-f4ec-461f-b618-a3948c95eabbAndrew Hill at the Financial Times:

For more than 200 years from its beginnings in the 1770s, the Dead Letter Office was where Americans’ letters and parcels were sent if they were unclaimed or undeliverable. Some items were redirected: the DLO had a “blind reading” department trained to decipher illegible or vague addresses (“To my Son he lives out West he drives a red ox the rale rode goes By Thar”). The office would incinerate the others or auction their contents, which included, according to one sale list, anything from wedding rings to “False Bosoms” and quack medicines, such as “the cure-all Tennessee Swamp Shrub”. It was estimated that 6bn pieces of mail were posted in the US in 1898, of which 6.3m ended up at the DLO in Washington, DC. “What romance was to be had in an undelivered or undeliverable letter!” Simon Garfield writes in To The Letter. “And what mystery and sadness too.”

Well, the romance and mystery have certainly gone. The US Postal Service has renamed the DLO the Mail Recovery Center, consolidated four locations into one in Atlanta, Georgia, and is pushing through a “Lean Six Sigma” process improvement project to make it more efficient. Asked if they write letters, most people would echo the DLO’s famous fictional former clerk Bartleby in the Herman Melville story: “I would prefer not to.”

more here.