Blue Mailboxes Disappear As Mail Decreases When's the last time you sent an email or paid a bill online? Now how about the last time you sent a letter? Your answer might explain why those blue mailboxes are disappearing from city streets.
NPR logo

Blue Mailboxes Disappear As Mail Decreases

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/97369106/97586985" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Blue Mailboxes Disappear As Mail Decreases

Blue Mailboxes Disappear As Mail Decreases

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/97369106/97586985" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ALEX COHEN, host:

Tis soon the season that Americans send gifts and holiday cards through the mail but not as many as they used to. The U.S. Postal Service is expected to deliver 8 billion fewer letters this year than it did in 2001. That decline in part is why those blue mailboxes are disappearing from street corners across America. Stephanie Sanders of member station WFPL reports from Louisville, Kentucky.

STEPHANIE SANDERS: You might call this the loneliest mailbox in Louisville. But you wouldn't think so. It's really close to a busy intersection, right next door to a real estate office and a financial consulting group. There's a YMCA right across the street and a school just around the corner. And there are tons of people around. They're dropping off their kids. They are getting ready for work. They are doing errands for the day, but none of them are stopping at this bright blue mailbox. Tony Goren is one person who does use this mailbox. He works next door at the real estate company and regularly drops off letters to his clients. He says the mailman always seems to have his hands full.

Mr. TONY GOREN (Real Estate Agent): People stop there quite a bit. You know those little plastic bins they use? He's probably pulling out a good full one of those every time he stops, once a day.

SANDERS: During the six hours I watched this mailbox the only person who approached it was the mailman, Robert Carter.

Mr. ROBERT CARTER (Mailman): This mailbox doesn't have much of anything in it. This is one of the few, I may just cut the location.

SANDERS: Carter scrunches down, peers inside and pulls out just two pieces of mail. In the 1960s and 70s, when these blue mailboxes were at their busiest, this collection box would average 200 pieces of mail a day, and this is why Louisville is doing away with one-third of its 900 mailboxes. Fewer people mailing letters means less money for the U.S. Postal Service which lost $2.8 billion this year. David Walton with the Louisville's postal service says in the declining economy saving money is important.

Mr. DAVID WALTON (Louisville's Postal Service): You know, because of this decrease and like many other private industries, we've been forced to become more efficient.

SANDERS: Walton says eliminating blue collection boxes means fewer miles postal workers have to drive, but officials have no idea how much money it might save. Other cities are also paring down their blue mailbox fleets. Last year, the post office eliminated almost 4,000 across the country, about 200,000 remain. National Postal Museum historian Nancy Pope says when blue mailboxes disappear Americans lose part of their heritage.

Ms. NANCY POPE (Historian, National Postal Museum): If you're taking something away that is part of their - maybe part of their history, part of their community, whether they use it on a regular basis or don't, when something is gone that used to be there, there is a pang there. There's a, you know, a nostalgia that just hits in automatically.

SANDERS: Nostalgic or not, the postal service says in a time of economic distress and rapidly decreasing revenue, warm fuzzies can't trump the bottom line. For NPR News, I'm Stephanie Sanders in Louisville, Kentucky.

COHENA: Day to Day is a production of NPR News with contributions from Slate.com. I'm Alex Cohen.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.