Saturday, May 01, 2021

How the US Post Office Conquered America


In 1899 there were five times as many post offices in the United States as there are McDonald's restaurants today. Digital Historian Professor Cameron Blevins has released a new historical account of how the American government rolled out the world’s largest communications network and in the process built the infrastructure that enabled it to exert its coercive power over the newly plundered land of the American west. Blevin's new book Paper Trails: The US Post and the Making of the American West recounts the extraordinary expansion of the U.S. Post during the Nineteenth Century and how this allowed it to exert the power of the state over the newly colonized western half of the United States.

The Gossamer Network is the companion website to Cameron Blevins 'Paper Trails' historical tome. The Gossamer Network is a mapped visualization of the US Post Office data which informs Blevin's history of the American West. As you progress through the Gossamer Network story map you can view visualizations of the incredible spread of Post Offices across the United States in just one generation (see animated map above).

As you continue through the Gossamer Network the huge network of newly established Post Offices is compared to the thinly spread military, judiciary and treasury infrastructures in Nineteenth Century America. The Gossamer Network also provides an incredible detailed examination of how the Post Office network actually spread across the west over the course of the second half of the Nineteenth Century.

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