It’s the birthday of the first president of the United States, George Washington, born in Westmoreland County, Virginia (1732), whose favorite foods were mashed sweet potatoes with coconut, string beans with mushrooms, cream of peanut soup, salt cod, and pineapples. He lost all of his teeth except for one by — according to second president John Adams — cracking Brazilian nuts between his jaws. He got dentures made out of a hippopotamus tusk, designed especially to fit over his one remaining real tooth. But the hippo dentures were constantly rubbing against that real tooth so that he was constantly in pain. He used opium to alleviate the pain.
He snored very loudly, and instead of wearing a powdered wig like other fashionable people, he put powder on his own hair, which was naturally a reddish brown. He was not good at spelling and he had a speech impediment. George Washington’s inaugural address was the shortest inaugural address in U.S. history: It was only 133 words long and took him just 90 seconds to deliver.
President George Washington established the United States Post Office on this date in 1792. He did so by signing the Postal Service Act. Prior to the Revolutionary War, there were very few official standards when it came to mail delivery. Some people hired couriers, or asked friends to deliver letters for them. Taverns served as informal mail-gathering centers. The British government established the post of postmaster general in 1707, but that task was managed from Britain, and it didn’t have too much practical effect on how the mail was handled in the colonies. Benjamin Franklin was named postmaster general in 1737, but was fired and sent back to America after he abused the power of his office to spy for the colonies.
A printer named William Goddard brought the original plans for a formal American postal service before the Continental Congress in 1774. Goddard published a newspaper, the Pennsylvania Chronicle, and he wanted to make sure that it would be delivered to his readers. His paper supported American independence, and postal agents working for the British crown constantly undermined his delivery efforts. He decided to draw up plans for an independent colonial post. Benjamin Franklin backed Goddard’s plan, and Franklin was named the first Postmaster General when the Constitutional Post began operations in 1775. Franklin held the position for about year, during which time he established overnight mail delivery between New York and Philadelphia, and standardized delivery rates.
The Postal Service Act guaranteed a free press and the inexpensive delivery of newspapers. It also made it illegal for postal officials to open private mail, and laid the legislative groundwork for Congress to expand the Post Office as the new nation grew. It established 75 regional post offices and 2,400 miles of postal routes, and it set the framework that the U.S. Postal Service still operates within today.