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Sorting Mail at the Post Office

By Maggie Schreiner

Posted on September 10, 2020

Men sorting mail at Vanderveer Post Office, circa 1925, V1973.5.630; Brooklyn photograph and illustration collection (ARC.202); Brooklyn Historical Society.

Happy (recent) Labor Day! This photograph of workers sorting mail was taken at the Vanderveer Post Office, located on Nostrand Ave near Avenue I.

The photo depicts the process of manual mail sorting, from the workers standing at the large wooden tables, to those putting mail onto shelves and into slots. Over time, the process of sorting mail has become increasing mechanized, and as a result, the workforce of the post office has decreased by more than 100,000 people over the last few decades.

In March 1970, 200,000 postal workers engaged in a wildcat strike, massively disrupting mail delivery across the country for eight days (before the internet was in widespread use!). The strike involved approximately a quarter of the workforce in 671 post offices around the country. Workers demanded a say in their future, dignity, and a fair wages. President Nixon responded to the strike by ordering 22,000 federal troops to New York City to sort the mail — but the soldiers didn’t have the skills or speed of the experienced postal workers. Through their labor action, postal workers ultimately won a 14% wage increase, and a faster progression through the pay scale.

This Photo of the Week is inspired by Motherboard’s Aaron Gordon’s weekly newsletter The Mail; read more or sign up here.

Interested in seeing more photos from BHS’s collection? Visit our online image gallery, which includes a selection of our images. We look forward inviting you back to BHS is the future to research in our entire collection of images, archives, maps, and special collections. In the meantime, please visit our digital collections, available here. Our reference staff are still available to help with your research! You can reach us at [email protected]

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