Letters are the most important form of communication in our history. They have been used in various forms for thousands of years, allowing communication between people who are not near enough to have a verbal conversation. Today we take it for granted that we can write and post a letter that can reach its recipient the next day, and we can also use more immediate forms of communication such as the telephone, email or text messaging which will reach their recipient straight away. However communication wasn’t always this easy.
The first handwritten letter was said to date from around 500 BC, written by the Persian Queen Atossa. Such early letters were likely to have been written on and with natural materials such as leaves and bark, and hand delivered. Can you imagine, paper wasn’t even invented in these times! Nature provided the means to send a message and the process of writing and delivering basic letters was born.
It wasn’t until Roman times that the first simplistic postal system was developed. Emperor Trajan arranged carriers to be stationed ready to transport important documents. These carriers were called ‘positus’ which is where the word ‘post’ comes from. This type of system would have only been accessible to the wealthy and powerful, and only useful to those who could read and write.
For thousands of years communications continued in a similar way, with letters delivered by horse riders or coach. Delivery could take an extremely long time and was still not accessible to all. As the general public learned to read and write, the demand for sending letters grew.
In 1635 Charles I opened a public postal service. Letters were carried between a network of ‘posts’ until they reached the local postmaster. This was still a slow process but remained in use for 150 years. In 1821 postal steamboats were introduced to help transport mail.
The first nationwide delivery service was introduced in Great Britain in May 1840. It worked on a prepaid stamp system similar to today’s Royal Mail service. The first post boxes were introduced in 1852, making it much easier for people to send a letter. Before this people travelled miles to get their letter sent.
It took thousands of years to develop a system that allowed us all to send a letter effectively and efficiently. Essentially this system connected the world, so it’s no wonder it took so long to put things in place. These days, most of us couldn’t imagine life without being able to send a letter. Mailing has been developed into such a sophisticated system that we can write to, send a document or item to almost anyone all over the world.