If you are like most people, you probably see ZIP codes almost every day. You might see them on everything from addresses and business cards through to letters, parcels, and maps.
Although we now take them for grated, Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) codes are a critical part of the U.S. Postal Service that has only been around since the 1963. That was when the U.S. government introduced almost 42,000 ZIP codes to improve the efficiency of mail delivery.
You might be surprised to discover that ZIP codes have an interesting history which includes some unusual moments. In this article, I’ll be sharing a few of these funny moments and interesting facts associated with ZIP codes.
ZIP Codes Were Promoted by “Mr Zip”
When ZIP codes were first introduced, the U.S. postal service had to train the general public to use them. The decided that the best way to do so was with a public awareness campaign. That sounds perfectly normal, right?
Well, the funny part is that decided to use a strange looking cartoon character called “Mr Zip” to promote the change to ZIP codes. Mr Zip was designed to signify how speedy the mail system would be thanks to the newly introduced ZIP codes.
Mr Zip was hand drawn by Harold Wilcox, the son of a postman. Given the basic appearance of the character, you might think that Harold was a little kid. In fact, Harold Wilcox was working as an art director for the advertising agency Cunningham and Walsh.
He intentionally drew the character to look like a child had created it, as they thought it would make Mr Zip more appealing. It must have worked, because using ZIP codes is now second nature to most people.
The Swingin’ Six Also Helped Out
The U.S. Postal Office also released a 15 minute informational film to encourage people to switch to ZIP codes. The film features The Swingin’ Six, a popular musical group during the 1960’s.
The film was a creative affair that included music, drama, comedy, and even a little bit of romance. The part that makes it particularly funny is the frequent appearance of a stern faced Postmaster General Of The United States. You can watch the film in all of its 1963 glory on YouTube.
Ethel Merman also recorded a catchy song to the tune of "Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" to promote ZIP codes. You can also check that video out on YouTube.
ZIP Codes Actually Contain A Lot Of Information
How much information can be contained within a 5 digit number? Quite a bit, as it turns out. Each number in a ZIP code has a specific function. Let’s take the ZIP code 90210 as an example (one that is familiar to most people).
9 is the national area. The number 9 tells the post office it goes to the Western section of the United States.
02 is the Sectional Centre or Post Office in that area. In this case, it would represent a large sorting centre somewhere in California.
10 Is the Associate Post Office or Delivery Area. From here, the mail is delivered to a home somewhere in Beverly Hills.
ZIP+4 numbers contain even more digits! Introduced in 1984, they have additional numbers for a specific street, building, side of the street, or floor. These longer ZIP codes are often used by businesses who send large amounts of mail.
Because the extra information in a ZIP+4 number helps to facilitate more efficient delivery, businesses that use additional digits usually get a discount on their mail charges.
There are also 4 types of ZIP codes:
Some Buildings Have Their Own ZIP Code
As mentioned a moment ago, high volume locations can have their own ZIP codes. Some notable examples of this include:
The U.S. President Has Their Own ZIP Code
One of the perks of being President is your own ZIP code! If you want to send the POTUS a letter, use the ZIP+4 code 20500-0001. You can also send the FLOTUS a letter using 20500-0002. These ZIP codes are both a subset of the White House ZIP code (20500).
One Fictional Character Has His Own ZIP Code
This fun fact might be useful at your next trivia night. Which fictional character has managed to obtain his own ZIP code?
The answer is Smokey The Bear. Smokey serves as the U.S. Forestry Service’s mascot, helping to promote safety awareness campaigns.
Most people have seen a cartoon animation of Smokey the Bear, but the original Smokey was actually a real-world bear cub who was saved from a forest fire in 1950. Smokey spent most of days living in the National Zoo in Washington D.C. and received so much fan mail from children that he was given his own ZIP code.
The ZIP code was canceled in 1993, but then brought back, at the request of millions of children and adults across the country.
Some ZIP Codes Get Taken Over!
The areas covered by a specific ZIP code can change over time. While the national area part of the code (the first number) doesn’t change, cities and towns will grow over time, taking their ZIP code on a journey. In some cases, the resulting ZIP codes collide with “ZIP code battles” breaking out.
This is true for the town of Conyngham, PA, a small town located just off the I-80, near a local Walmart. The town, with a ZIP code of 18219, is home to about 2000 residents. Over the years, Conyngham has become completely surrounded by the nearby town of Sugarloaf. As a result, the ZIP code 18219 (Conyngham) has been attacked by the ZIP code of 18249 (Sugarloaf).
This means that people living in the ZIP code of 18249 also live in the ZIP code of 18219. This can lead to some confusion when it comes to explain where to deliver items or telling an insurance company which ZIP code your home is in!
There Are Some Unusual Zip Codes
Over the years, ZIP codes have been placed on many kinds of buildings and townships. Some of the most interesting include:
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