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Visualization: The rise of the post office (when it wasn’t so poor)

With the postmaster general pleading poverty, what better time to consider the history of the postal system in America?

With the postmaster general pleading poverty, what better time to consider the history of the postal system in America? Data visualization wizard Derek Watkins used government data to map the expansion of United States territorial control through the growth of the postal system.

Minnesota gets its first post offices right around 1850. Watch the expansion for yourself here:

If you want to go a little deeper, check out Minnesota’s first post office sorting shelves over at the Minnesota Historical Society’s Up Close blog. Pretty awesome. Also, pretty small.

A few interesting national patterns, noted by Watkins in a blog post:

  • 1776 – Several new post offices crop up along the east coast after the Revolution.
  • 1846 – Rash of openings in Texas after statehood and the end of the Mexican-American War.
  • 1848 – First offices established on the west coast, with lots of activity afterwards, likely due to gold rushes and CA statehood.
  • 1851 – New Mexico and Utah start to see some activity as they become territories. I especially like the lines extending from Santa Fe along the Rio Grande / El Camino Real.
  • 1860s – No activity in the South during the Civil War; also an interesting sweep across the Great Plains, with Oklahoma remaining conspicuously quiet.
  • 1870s – Distinct traces along railroads in Nebraska and Kansas.
  • 1890s – Oklahoma lights up due to several land rushes.

If you haven’t noticed already, I’ve started something new at The Intelligencer. Each Friday I’m posting data visualization projects produced by some other data nerd or organization. If you missed the last two Friday posts, check them out now: Interactive map: Visualizing the growth of newspapers in Minnesota and Mapping contributions to GOP presidential candidates.