Did you know that the Chicago Post Office is the busiest in the nation? The Chicago Post office offers tours and after making arrangements a few days in advance we headed over right after our visit at Millennium Park. We met our tour guide, a wonderful gentleman who informed us he'd been working there for 43 years. He proceeded to tell us what happens to a piece of mail after we put in in the mailbox showing us the bins and where they get wheeled to and sorted.
We saw how the mail used to be sorted by hand (and some still is when it's bulky or tough to read) and then canceled -our guide even let the kids hand cancel a few letters and send them on their way to to sorted. Then we got to see the super sophisticated machines that read the addresses sending letters along chutes in all different directions at lightening speed. The kids and I got a real thrill when our guide let us sort some magazines loading them into the machines and watching them whizz off down the conveyor belt. I think all the kids were ready to sign up for a job, as our tour guide was most impressed with their skills- and they were keen to just keep feeding the machines as long as he let them. We learned about zip codes and how the mail is sorted into small slots by address to be delivered later by the mailman. I have to say, I was really impressed and pretty amazed that the whole process only costs 46 cents (maybe more now as they keep raising the rates) for a letter-it's a bargain.
This tour reminded me so much of my very first field trip as a kid in third grade to our neighborhood post office. At the end of the tour we mailed our parents a letter and I remember how thrilling it was when it arrived at home in the mailbox with the canceled stamp we had put on ourselves...I still remember the stamp, it was a colorful Peter Max design of a running man in bell bottom pants celebrating the movement to preserve the environment. That stamp cost 10 cents back in 1974. Beleve it or not that was also the year that zip codes began to be used-can you believe it?-wow, I feel a little old now...What's most amazing though is that we still take for granted what that letter has gone through to get us in our mailboxes at home, all the machinery, the sorting the traveling-it's pretty mind blowing actually-and I am so glad my kids and I got a firsthand look. I really encourage you to take this tour if you find yourself in Chicago. Oh, and the best part is the tour was totally free. Here's the info as there is no website: US Post Office Factory Tour
433 West Harrison Street, Chicago, (312) 983-7550.