Who would have thought ideas meant to facilitate mail delivery would not only help nearly everyone in the country, but also boost the economy as well?

Take, for instance, the U.S. Postal Service’s Address Management System (AMS), a database of around 127 million deliverable addresses. Since its inception, the Postal Service has kept track of addresses to assure continuity and currency of location information. Every change-of-address that is filed – 36 million in 2019 alone – updates the AMS.

This elaborate system helps USPS make sure that people and businesses get their mail. The AMS also helps business mailers correct street addresses and city names in their mailing lists. But it has done a lot more. For example, USPS worked closely with counties, converting old rural route style addresses to street addresses, which were then recorded in the AMS and led to improved 911 services.

The AMS is also a resource for disaster recovery, as was the case in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when the Louisiana state government and the American Red Cross used the database to help track down displaced people.

Then there’s something so commonplace now that for most people it’s an afterthought, if they think about it at all – the ZIP Code. Developed in 1963, the Zone Improvement Plan Code was originally intended to allow for automation of mail sorting and thus move mail more efficiently. It ended up creating unimagined socio-economic benefits as an organizing and enabling device, becoming a tool for displaying demographic information as well as a support structure for entire industries such as insurance and real estate.

It even featured symbolically in a 1990s hit TV show, Beverly Hills, 90210 – a location identifier associated with luxury and privilege.

Moreover, the Postal Service offered the ZIP Code and its ability to organize data by geography on an open platform as a free public service for anyone to use. As we noted in our 2013 white paper, The Untold Story of the ZIP Code, IBM computed that the additional revenues and reduced costs resulting directly from the ZIP Code in all its uses amounts to close to $10 billion annually in value across the economy.

These are just two ways the Postal Service plays a role in the national infrastructure. Can you think of others?

Comments (12)

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  • anon

    I am curious about what happened as a result of the paper that was written in 2013 called The Untold Story of the ZIP Code. Did any of that plan ever get implemented? Specifically I am wondering about the portion that discussed geocoding addresses. I am currently taking a GIS class and want to do some reporting on that and whether or not that has been implemented. If anyone can point me towards any information regarding that I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you!

    Aug 06, 2020
  • anon

    Hello, Judy. Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, we have not been able to determine whether the U.S. Postal Service’s Address Management System (AMS) was geocoded over the course of the last few years. We can confirm, though, that Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) does not have an opt-in feature that connects demographic information and consumer preferences to ZIP Codes. The online tool allows mailers to search for routes that meet certain demographic criteria, such as age and income, but this does not include consumer preferences. We hope that you find this information useful.

    Sep 02, 2020
  • anon

    We are all worried; I wouldn’t say scared. To be honest, we are all worried for our families more so than ourselves. We are all coming to work because we serve the public. Yeah, we don’t like delivering stupid crap, but in this time if we can deliver anything that puts a smile on someone’s face, God bless them! Believe me, none of us are working right now because we have to. People can say what they want about the post office, but they have told us: “If for any reason you don’t want to work” — stress, etc. — “take the time off.”

    Aug 01, 2020
  • anon

    So this is why my mail is messed up! My son Stefan moved to Phoenix, now mail for me Steven in Illinois, from places I do business with goes to Arizona! what was wrong with putting a sticker on mail to forward for 30 or 60 days and it be our responsibility to change it with the sender? Your intrusive "help" by notifying businesses has become a nightmare! Who asked you to invade my privacy, and contact companies I haven't done business with for over 5 years that you "think" I've moved? Why do you even have that information? And now how are you going to fix it?

    Jul 20, 2020
  • anon

    It also provides the autonomy that some towns request or residents for tax differentiation and state federal funding.

    Jul 14, 2020
  • anon

    Thank you for doing a wonderful job and this very interesting to know. Thank you for sharing.

    Jul 14, 2020
  • anon

    The Address Management System should be modified for renewable mail forwarding capability. Those of us who cannot install a mail receptacle at our homes, and therefore are forced to use Post Office Boxes, are being denied service if SmartPost or SurePost are involved. Many retailers are unwilling or unable to accept PO Boxes in their computer applications when accepting orders. UPS and FedEx have no problem delivering parcels containing ambiguous, but correct, addresses. THE USPS should become more flexible and adaptable.

    Jul 13, 2020
  • anon

    Hi Gary. I hope you get to see this. Not sure if AMS can be modified the way you’re asking, but I do know there’s another service call “move to competitive” that I’ve heard mention of before. See if you can ask about it at your local office. Long story short, what you end up doing is using the post office’s address and then your P.O. Box number as a Unit # or Apt # and it gets delivered to you. My understanding is it’s actually an issue in the systems of other carriers, not USPS. Hope this helps.

    Jul 19, 2020
  • anon

    I was the HQ program manager for the Address Management System during the 1980-1990's. . This included various phases of the design, development, implementation and management of AMS over a 15-year period. We expanded the ZIP+4 code to the 11-digit ZIP+4+2, in order to facilitate the identification of delivery points to the street and even house number. They were some of my best postal years.

    Jul 13, 2020
  • anon

    Hi Harry, I remember them well. You had a great team.

    Aug 17, 2020
  • anon

    This is a pretty awesome online site with you guys have created for We The People to refer to...and what i like best is its simple to use.Thanks you guys your doing a great job as always.I appreciate the great service and also in such a timely manner.Ty...

    Jul 13, 2020
  • anon

    Thank You for job.

    Jul 13, 2020