Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Neither Snow Nor Rain

A History of the United States Postal Service

by Devin Leonard

Few institutions are as loved, as loathed, and as historically important as the United States Post Office, the subject of this landmark century-spanning social, political, and economic history.

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 384
  • Publication Date November 16, 2021
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-5901-4
  • Dimensions 5.50" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $18.00
  • Imprint Grove Hardcover
  • Page Count 336
  • Publication Date May 03, 2016
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-2458-6
  • Dimensions 6" x 9"
  • US List Price $26.00

About The Book

The United States Postal Service is a wondrous American creation. Seven days a week, its army of 300,000 letter carriers delivers 513 million pieces of mail, 40 percent of the world’s volume. It is far more efficient than any other mail service–more than twice as efficient as the Japanese and easily outpacing the Germans and British. And the USPS has a storied history. Founded by Benjamin Franklin, it was the information network that bound far-flung Americans together, fostered a common culture, and helped American business to prosper. A first-class stamp remains one of the greatest bargains of all time, and yet the USPS is slowly vanishing. Critics say it is slow and archaic. Mail volume is down. The workforce is shrinking. Post offices are closing.

In Neither Snow Nor Rain, journalist Devin Leonard tackles the fascinating, centuries-long history of the USPS, from the first letter carriers through Franklin’s days, when postmasters worked out of their homes and post roads cut new paths through the wilderness. Under Andrew Jackson, the post office was molded into a vast patronage machine, and by the 1870s, over 70 percent of federal employees were postal workers. As the country boomed, the USPS aggressively developed new technology, from mobile post offices on railroads and airmail service to mechanical sorting machines and optical character readers.

Neither Snow Nor Rain is a rich, multifaceted history, full of remarkable characters, from the stamp-collecting FDR, to the revolutionaries who challenged USPS’s monopoly on mail, to the renegade union members who brought the system–and the country–to a halt in the 1970s. An exciting and engrossing read, Neither Snow Nor Rain is the first major history of the USPS in over fifty years.


“Intensely readable . . . Colored by entertaining and lively retellings, including the exploits of the Pony Express and of Wells Fargo . . . Leonard mines important moments from the history of the postal service.” —Nathan Smith, Nation

“[A] sweeping and entertaining history . . . offers a host of interesting anecdotes.” —Lisa McGirr, New York Times Book Review

“Engaging [and] well-written.” —Hank H. Cox, Washington Post

“A lively examination of America’s most ubiquitous public institution . . . Captivating and thoughtful.” —Kristin H. Macomber, Washington Independent Review of Books

“Answers every question you’ve ever had about the United States Postal Service . . . Surprises abound. Who knew, for instance, that some early-20th-century families sent their children by parcel post to save on train fares?” —John Irving, Week

“Leonard doesn’t shrink from discussing the issues facing one of the nation’s oldest services. He tosses in a fair amount of postal lore, and one doesn’t have to be a history buff or a stamp collector to appreciate his tales . . . A compelling [story] worth reading.” —Mark Kellner, Deseret News

“A fast-moving, richly detailed portrait of the U.S. Postal Service—a system far more important to the country than is generally understood.” —Brad Stone, author of The Everything Store

“In Neither Snow nor Rain, Devin Leonard tells the fascinating (yes, fascinating!) story of an endangered species, the US Postal Service. Leonard’s well-told story, which shows that mail delivery is a critical part of a functioning civilization, will be eye-opening to those who think the USPS should go the way of the buggy whip.” —Bethany McLean, co-author of The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron and All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis

“Surprisingly fascinating.” —Mike Pesca, The Gist

“An engrossing account of a once-vital service that may soon be nothing more than a memory.” —Jake Rossen, Mental Floss (25 Amazing New Books for Spring)

“Lively . . . brisk [and] informative . . . A spirited look at the business and impact of delivery mail.” —Kirkus Reviews

Neither Snow nor Rain . . . serves up a colorful array of visionaries, hucksters, daredevils and crackpots . . . What’s most remarkable is the way [the] book makes you care what happens to its main protagonist, the U.S. Postal Service itself. And, as such, it leaves you at the end in suspense.” —Gene Seymour, USA Today

“A good, quirky history book . . . Lively, fun . . . Leonard delivers a lot here, and moves fast as he entertains . . . Remember how exciting it was to get birthday cards in the mail? Neither Snow nor Rain is that much fun, and I think you’ll enjoy it. If you’re stamping around for something different to read, you’ll love every letter.” —Terri Schlichenmeyer, Journal Record

“Equally rollicking and relevant . . . this is history on an epic scale . . . Engaging and concise . . . Leonard writes with a hard-nosed understanding of the organization’s current problems, but also sympathy and a fair amount of hope.” —Mark Gimein, Strategy & Business

“[A] delightful surprise . . . Devin Leonard’s book is a treasure; one of the best non-fiction books I’ve ever read. [Leonard] brings history to life, fleshes out bureaucrats and makes us deeply care about the post office . . . Magnificent . . . [A] definitive book . . . Whether you read this by swiping or turning, just read it.” —Jacqueline Cutler, Newark Star Ledger

“Devin Leonard’s marvelous history of the United States Post Office recounts the American experience from a singular and highly entertaining angle. Along the way, you’ll encounter a visionary founding father, glad-handing rogue politicians, terrified biplane pilots, firebrand union bosses, and children with postage attached to their overcoats mailed cross-country as parcel post. I dare you to put it down.” —William J. Bernstein, author of A Splendid Exchange and Masters of the Word

“Devin Leonard has achieved something astonishing. He has taken the Post Office—too often disparaged as the carrier of “snail mail” in this age of instant communication—and delivered a vivid and surprising story filled with indelibly drawn personalities including a founding father, an obsessive nineteenth-century smut-hunter, the swashbuckling pilots of the earliest, nearly suicidal airmail service, and many others. With crisp prose and unflagging narrative drive, Leonard reveals the forgotten history of the institution, and makes abundantly clear, the story of the Post Office is also the story of America.” —Fergus M. Bordewich, author of The First Congress: How James Madison, George Washington, and a Group of Extraordinary Men Invented the Government

“A wonderfully written and insightful history of a great but beleaguered American institution. Devin Leonard brings the story of the Postal Service to life with memorable characters, from Benjamin Franklin to Franklin Roosevelt and many others, with cameos from the likes of William Faulkner and Ethel Merman. Who knew that the Postal Service had such a colorful history? Luckily, Devin Leonard knew it, and now so do we.” —Terry Golway, author of Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics

“It’s impossible to overstate the impact of the United States Postal Service on American Life . . . This book explores the rich history of this formidable operation, as well as its slow disappearance.” —Laura Pearson, Chicago Tribune

“Delectably readable . . . [Leonard] has a zesty prose style, a great sense of humor, a fine eye for the telling anecdote and a lucid way of unraveling some of the controversies and challenges our postal service has faced in its 224 years of existence. Leonard’s account offers surprises on almost every other page . . . [and] delivers both the triumphs and travails with clarity, wit and heart.” —Michael Upchurch, Chicago Tribune


Named a Favorite Book of 2016 by the Washington Independent Review of Books


In 1912, Taft signed the parcel post law, and the new service began on January 1, 1913. People lined up at post offices around the country that had opened for the historic occasion and sent three million packages. In Gary, Indiana, a brick dealer named William Parry arrived at the post office with 1,000 of his products, individually wrapped to get around the 11-pound limit.

The parcel post was a boon to mail order companies like Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. Previously, they had relied on the private expresses to transport their orders. But now they had an army of letter carriers who could transport their goods to every doorstep in the country, including those of people in rural areas who were starved for the items in their catalogues. Thanks to parcel post, the mail order industry’s profits climbed from $40 million in 1908 to $250 million in 1920.

Postal customers sent all sorts of oddities just to see if they could get away with it. They mailed pitchforks and brooms. They mailed eggs, some of which arrived intact.

In February 1914, the Pierstorffs of Grangeville, Idaho, sent their four-year-old daughter to visit her grandmother 75 miles away in Lewiston via parcel post because it was cheaper than buying her a train ticket. Little May Pierstorff weighed 48 pounds, which meant that she was just under the 50-pound limit for parcels. The Grangeville postmaster charged her parents 53 cents and attached the appropriate stamps to her coat. May traveled in a baggage car under the watchful eye of a railway mail clerk. When she arrived, a mail clerk on duty drove her to her grandmother’s house rather than leaving her at the post office for morning delivery.