Informative and fun little article on the US Postal Service’s push to get Americans to add a 5-digit ZIP code to their envelopes and post cards. The effort started in 1963 and it took almost 20 years before Americans changed their habits – or knuckled under, depending on your point of view.
Interesting slice of Americana, with a special role played by an, at one time, iconic – though now largely forgotten – cartoony character.
The campaign began with the name itself — ZIP. It was a good name. ‘ZIP’ sounded a lot friendlier than Zone Improvement Plan, the Orwellian phrase for which ZIP was an acronym. At the same time, ZIP said speed. Mr. Zip — a hand-drawn, wide-eyed little postal guy — became the face of ZIP code promotional efforts, the embodiment of the harmless yet zippy quality of ZIP codes. (‘Mr. Zip’ was also a significant improvement on Mr. Zip’s original name “Mr. P.O. Zone”.) Mr. Zip was speedy and clever, like other American cartoon heroes: Bugs Bunny or Speedy Gonzalez or the Road Runner. After July 1, 1963 Mr. Zip was everywhere. Americans would turn on their radios or televisions or open a newspaper and there was Mr. Zip, banging the drum for ZIP codes.