The History of Post Boxes

The first red pillar post boxes in Great Britain were erected in Jersey in 1852. From 1857 wall post boxes appeared, especially in the rural districts.  After several improvements, a National Standard pillar box was adopted in 1859 and the standard colour for these early post boxes was green.  It was only about 6 years later that red was adopted as the standard colour and in London it was only after 1884 that all the post boxes were repainted.  In 2012, selected post boxes in Great Britain were painted gold to celebrate gold medals won at the home Olympics

Although post boxes are used throughout the world, in England they represent the “living history of communication” and there are about 115 000 post boxes in the UK.  Many have the EIIR mark of Queen Elizabeth, but there are still boxes in use from the time of George V, and smaller numbers of post boxes from the reigns of George VI, Queen Victoria and Edward VII, and some have the Scottish crown.

In Russia, the first public letter boxes appeared in 1848 in St Petersburg.  These were made of wood and iron.  They were very light and easy to steal, so they disappeared quite often.  Later, the post boxes were made of cast iron and could weigh up to 45 kilograms.

In Paris, the first street letter box was blue and appeared in 1850.  There is a yellow post box from 1977 on display at the Coine Valley Postal History Museum in France.

In Hong Kong metal pillar boxes appeared in 1890 and until late 1990’s they were red, subsequently they were painted green.   Green and red seem to have been the most popular colours used in Europe and Asia.   

In China most of the post boxes are green, but there are also some pink post-boxes.  The reason for this is that pink represents love and harmony and the post boxes painted pink were intended for love letters. 

Singapore has the most unique post boxes.  They are painted totally white, with Singapore inscribed on all 4 sides. 

In other countries, the name of the country does not often appear on the post box and when it does, it is only on one side.

Post boxes in the United States were initially made to be hung or supported, but this was changed and the boxes were made of heavy cast iron to deter theft.  The US post boxes were initially painted red or green, but by 1909, the standard became green to distinguish between the post boxes and the emergency and fire equipment which was red.  It was only after 1955 that the colour was changed to red white and blue.  Today US mail boxes are dark blue.  The United States is the country with the most cars per capita in the world.  For this reason, a mailbox was designed to be at the height of the window of the vehicle so that the driver would not have to get out to post his letter.

South Africa has the most varied designs for post boxes – at least 20 different designs.  Before the Suez Canal was built in 1869, South Africa was considered to be a very distant place. Sailors using this adventurous sea route wanted to send letters to their family, but when they stopped at the Cape of Good Hope, the only arrangement was to fix a meeting place next to a big rock so that they could hand their letters to sailors returning home.  In 1860 a mailbox was given to South Africa from Great Britain.  It was placed at the Cape of Good Hope and this made it easier for the sailors to send mail to their loved ones.  Subsequently mailboxes made in Britain were placed in many countries around the world.

Generally post boxes are emptied once or twice a day.  The times are usually indicated on the post box, but this varies in every country. 

During 1939, many bombs were planted in post boxes in the UK by the IRA.  After the 9/11 attacks in the USA, at least 7000 post boxes were removed as a result of the anthrax attacks where letters with anthrax spores were placed in public collection boxes. 

Today, as a result of the internet and on-line banking and bill payments, there is a much lower demand for mail and as a result a much lower demand for post boxes as well.   However the need has arisen for the man in the street to have unattended deliveries for internet orders, so that apartment blocks and flats have found the need for larger mailboxes for their tenants’ deliveries.

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