The History of the Universal Postal Union

Many stamps have the initials UPU printed on them.  This stands for Universal Postal Union.  But what is the Universal Postal Union?  I decided to find out a bit more about it.

The Universal Postal Union was established on 9 October 1874 as the “General Postal Union” in order to co-ordinate postal policies between member nations.  This day is now celebrated as World Post Day.  This meant that each country had to prepare an agreement with the nations it intended to carry international mail to or from.  It also meant that there was agreement over the postal rates worldwide.  Among the many tasks of the UPU, it strives to promote the free flow of international mail, to improve the quality of postal services worldwide and to provide technical assistance to member countries if needed.  The headquarters of the UPU are situated in Berne, Switzerland.  The official language used is French, however English was added as a working language in 1994.

The UPU became a specialised agency of the United Nations when the UN was established in 1942.  All United Nations member countries are allowed to become members of the UPU.  If a country is not a member of the UN, it is necessary to obtain 2/3 of the vote of the member countries of the UPU to become a member.  The UPU has 194 members (193 countries which are members of the United Nations and the Vatican City).  Four small countries, Andorra, Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau have their mail delivered through another UPU member. (France and Spain for Andorra, and the United States for the other countries).

In 1972 the UPU decided to recognise the People’s Republic of China as the only legitimate Chinese representative.  This means that mail addressed to Taiwan must be delivered through Japan, United States and also Hong Kong.  Somaliland and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus also route their mail via other countries, Somaliland via Ethiopia, Northern Cyprus via Turkey.  It is not known why these countries are forced to re-route their mail.

The UPU together with the World Association for the Development of Philately created in 1997, has a website which has entries for 160 countries with over 25 000 stamps registered.  The main objective is simply, to promote stamp collecting and combat illegal issues.

Together with organisations such as the International Telecommunications Union (1874) and the Rhine Commission (1815), it is one of the oldest organisations in the world.

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