It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Street letter boxes have been painted a number of different colors by the Postal Service over the years, but their exact colors for the decades after their introduction in the 1850s is unknown. The earliest known reference to the color of collection boxes is found in The Story of the Post Office (1889), by W.B. Jones, although it is not clear whether the colors applied only to boxes in Boston or to those in other cities as well: There are over 800 street letter boxes from which collections are made by the Boston [post] office and its sub-stations. To people who reside within this postal district it is well known that some of these boxes are painted red and others green. The red boxes are the most important ones, and they are visited every hour by the carriers. Another reference is found in a report of Fourth Assistant Postmaster General J. L. Bristow, dated October 24, 1903, and part of the Congressional Serial Set. The Machen referred to is A. W. Machen, General Superintendent of the Free-Delivery System from May 6, 1893, until May 27, 1903. The color of the paint of the street letter boxes has been changed from time to time according to the taste of the administrative officers of the Department. Years ago it was dark green, afterwards vermilion red . . . In 1897 Machen adopted the aluminum color, and also changed the method of painting . . . posts to be painted green, boxes aluminum bronze. By at least 1909, collection boxes were painted green. On February 27, 1913, however, Postmaster General Frank H. Hitchcock ordered that collection boxes be painted “either vermilion or coach-red.” Ten weeks later, on May 10, the order was rescinded by Postmaster General Albert S. Burleson because fire departments, city councils, and the public complained about the confusion with red fire boxes and equipment. The boxes were repainted green. Green gave way to olive drab after World War I when the War Department gave the Post Office Department a vast supply of surplus olive drab paint. This became the standardized color for collection boxes and remained in use until 1955. On the Fourth of July in 1955, Postmaster General Arthur Summerfield announced that street collection boxes would be painted red, white, and blue to make them easily identifiable. The new paints also were longer lasting. Specifications for the red, white, and blue color scheme were printed in Postal Bulletin 19867, dated August 9, 1955. When the Post Office Department was reorganized, creating the United States Postal Service in 1971, a solid, deep blue color for collection boxes was announced. Reflective decals with the new Postal Service logo were attached to the mailboxes. This color scheme is still used today, with the substitution of the newest Postal Service logo, the “sonic eagle” in white on a blue background, which was adopted in 1993.
You know a mailbox when you see one. (They’re those blue hunks of metal bolted to the sidewalk with the creaky flaps that go reeeeaaaaaallllk when you pull them open.) But what about the dark-green boxes that don’t have any slots to accept mail?
Called postal relay boxes, these work as storage containers for mail carriers as they make their rounds. Carriers can replenish their bags on the go, removing the need to constantly return to the distribution center (or carry everything at once). They are most prevalent in cities where USPS workers make deliveries on foot, and the boxes are either filled by the carriers themselves or postal workers in trucks who make larger delivery runs.
Ideally, these relay boxes are put at the most convenient possible locations along carriers’ routes. A 1992 study in the American Journal of Mathematical and Management Sciences titled “Locating Postal Relay Boxes Using a Set Covering Algorithm” [PDF] details the number-crunching that goes into this. Using data from Canadian mail routes, the researchers took into account things like maximum mailbag weight (35 pounds), average mail volume (depending on day), and the number of mail carriers who can use each relay box at once. The algorithm resulted in a lower number of needed relay boxes, which cut down on cost.
You may have noticed that a green relay box that was present on your corner, say, ten years ago may no longer be there. As the Internet further reduces the need for paper mail, carrier loads have been getting lighter, accounting for fewer relay boxes. When Gothamist asked a USPS representative about the disappearing boxes, they confirmed that they were being removed “if they were no longer needed.” The rep was also tight-lipped about the very nature of the relay boxes, telling Gothamist’s Jen Carlson, “[They] are for official postal use only. Any further information regarding them is proprietary."
This reticence was likely due to security concerns. According to the Postal Inspection Service’s law enforcement guide, “relay boxes can contain large quantities of mail in gray sacks that thieves cart off looking for checks and credit cards.” It goes without saying, but please leave the relay boxes alone; they're just trying to help.