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Defending the Frontier

Enforcing the Law


As one of our country’s oldest federal law enforcement agencies, modern day Postal Inspectors, in the same way the early surveyors and special agents, have a proud and successful record of fighting criminals who attack the nation’s postal system and misuse it to defraud, endanger, or otherwise threaten the American public.   

  • In 1737, Benjamin Franklin as the Postmaster at Philadelphia, visited and audited the accounts of existing Post Offices. His additional duties included “regulating the several Post Offices and bringing the Postmasters to account.”
  • In 1761, John Foxcroft (not affiliated with the Inspection Service) was assigned to handle the colonies’ postal affairs and by 1772, the postal service had expanded to the point that regulating of post offices and the auditing of postal accounts required the creation of a new position “Surveyors,” who were the first Postal Inspectors; required to investigate thefts of mail or postal funds, often by a rider, innkeeper or other person entrusted with the mail. 
  • In 1801, an issue was ordered changing the title of Surveyor to Special Agent.
  • In 1812, Special Agents observe and report on movements of the British fleet on the Potomac River during the War of 1812.
  • In 1830, a separate Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations was formed to be the investigative and inspection branch of the Post Office Department. By then, laws and regulations were being enacted by Congress which made certain violations against the United States postal system federal crimes.
  • In 1835, Preston S. Loughborough was placed in charge of this new investigative and inspection branch which was the predecessor to the Office of the Chief Postal Inspector.
  • In 1853, there were 18 total Special Agents in the Postal Service who were assigned responsibility for specific territories.
  • In 1872, Congress enacted the Mail Fraud Statute to combat a rash of swindles by mail which erupted after the Civil War.
  • In 1873, Congress enacts the Postal Obscenity Statute based on the urging of Special Agent Anthony Comstock. The total number of Special Agents had jumped to 63.
  • In 1880, a law passed by Congress establishing the title of Chief Post Office Inspector and changed the designation of a Special Agent to Inspector.
  • In 1916, Postal Inspectors investigated and solved the last known stagecoach robbery in the U.S. The stagecoach from Rogerson, Idaho to Jarbidge, Nevada was robbed, the driver murdered and over $3,000 taken from the mail. Within five days the robbers were caught by Inspectors.
  • One of the most widely recognized firearm anywhere in the world is the Thompson submachine gun—the “Tommy gun.” The first government agency to use any quantity of Thompsons was the Post Office Department. In an effort to curb a sudden increase in mail robberies in the early ’20s, 250 of the guns were purchased.  When the U.S. Marines landed in Nicaragua and Shanghai in 1927, they were supplied with Post Office “Tommy guns.”
  • In the 1920s and 30s, mail train robberies were a new challenge to the postal system. They transported high value mail shipments, such as diamonds, increasing the need to protect valuables sent through the mail. Post Office Inspectors became the first federal law enforcement officers to carry the Thompson submachine gun to combat the rash of robberies.
  • Between 1937 and 1941, over 500 railroad cars carried $15.5 billion in gold by registered mail between New York and Fort Knox. Inspectors were responsible for all the plans for the movement and protection of the gold, and the transfer was accomplished without mishap.
  • In 1958, owners of the Hope Diamond sent the priceless jewel to the Smithsonian Institution by U.S. Mail. Postal Inspectors ensured that the gem arrived safely at its destination.
  • Expansion of the armed forces prior to Pearl Harbor created a problem as existing military mail systems were unable to cope with the increased volume of mail being delivered to field units. Inspectors assisted in the implementation of an agreement between the Postal Service and the War Department in the handling of military mail during peacetime and wartime conditions. Today’s world-wide military postal system is the direct descendant of the system initiated by Inspectors.
  • In the 1940s, Robert Moon, while working as a Postal Inspector in Philadelphia developed the idea for the ZIP Code. He’s sometimes called "Mr. ZIP" and considered the father of the ZIP Code or Zone Improvement Plan. His system used only the first three digits of what became a five-digit, and later a nine-digit, system.
  • In 1971, the Postal Inspection Service becomes one of the first federal law enforcement agencies to hire female agents.
  • Postal Inspectors have investigated insider traders on Wall Street, world-wide art fraud rings, crooked televangelists, and fake charities. In recent years, the Postal Inspection Service has played an integral role in terrorist investigations, including the Unabomber, anthrax and ricin cases.

For additional information about the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, go to postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

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