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Fruitful paradox: the penny post

Rowland Hill introduced the idea of drastically reducing the charge for mail sent anywhere in Britain, and having the charge paid with a stamp purchased when the mail was sent rather than when it was delivered. These common sense notions were not obvious to the government which declared Hill's ideas "preposterous" and "wild and visionary". The last term was not intended to be complimentary.

Hill, who makes an appearance in the Ingenious Timeline, realized that the cost of sending mail had little to do with distance and a great deal to do with the time involved in computing travel costs and delivering the letters. Often the recipients of letters refused to accept them because the charge could equal a day's pay for a poor man. Unhappily, the government, which controlled postal revenues, was squeezing as much money as it could from an inadequate service.

With the establishment of the penny post on this day in 1840, the inequities, expenses, and inconveniences of the post were all rapidly resolved, and three times as many letters were posted. Government revenues increased, too. Government has yet to understand these fruitful paradoxes.

The Penny Black appeared in May of the same year, which saw mail increase from 76 million letters in 1839 to 168 million in 1840.

Thanks to On This Day for the date.

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