The postman and his evolution over time
Since ancient times, humans have felt the need to share messages with people beyond their immediate geographical reach. The beginning of traditional letter mail can be dated back to ancient Greece. Back then, foot messengers, who were usually trained as runners, made sure that messages were exchanged in the country that was the birthplace of the Olympic Games.
"Cursus Publicus" in ancient Rome
The history of Austrian postal services goes back approximately 2,000 years. Back then, the Roman “Cursus Publicus” delivered daily messages from the Roman “headquarters” to military and administrative personnel in the Roman province of Noricum.
In the Middle Ages, there were no reliable postal services with continuous service. The postal service shared the fate of many institutions in the sense that it did not gain traction until the 15th century, which was the age of discoveries and invention. It was around this time that an effective postal service was created, which is arguably the precursor of today’s postal service.
15th century: mounted couriers crisscrossing Europe
In the late 15th century, Emperor Maximilian I created the first mounted courier service that linked Brussels with France, Italy (via Innsbruck) and Vienna (via Speyer and Augsburg). This service also accepted private mail. This new regular postal service soon proved to be a success. While it was the aristocratic family Thurn und Taxis that built the postal service on behalf of the empire, the counts of Thurn-Valsassina und Taxis took the project into their hands in Tyrol and in the Austrian pre-alpine regions. The Paar family was granted the postal rights in most hereditary lands of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. This lasted until 1722, when Charles VI declared the postal service to be a state monopoly. Under Maria Theresa and Joseph II, the postal service was standardised by the introduction of postal carriages with regular service.
The 18th century was a time of numerous important innovations in the area of postal services. Some of these key innovations can be attributed to Austrians. We owe the first “modern-day” postmarks to the royal postal officer Johann Georg Khumer of Friesach, who introduced them in 1787.
However, 80 years would pass until this trailblazing Austrian-made invention was included in the general postal regulations. Innovations introduced after 1800 included letterboxes, money orders, cash-on-delivery items and – stamps. The Austrian tax officer Laurenz Koschier had submitted a concept for the introduction of stamps back in 1836, but he was ahead of his time.
Stamps after 1850
It wasn’t until the first stamps were introduced in 1840 in England that the idea of stamps caught on in Austria. The first Austrian stamps were produced in 1850, making Austria the respectable 15th country in the world to introduce “adhesive letter levy stamps.” The first postmark that imprinted exact information about time and location on the letters was introduced in 1867.
The first predecessors of the postcard were introduced in the second half of the 19th century, followed by picture postcards shortly thereafter.
Postcards: an Austrian invention
In 1869, Dr. Emanuel Herrmann, an economics professor in Klagenfurt, had a far-reaching idea. He proposed a never-before-seen option of sending mail: simple “postcards”, no bigger than an envelope that one could send “open through the postal service”. This idea was enthusiastically received and in the same year, the first “correspondence cards” were produced in Austria. They were a resounding success: as many as 1.4 million pieces were sold in the very first month!
In 1885, private persons were granted the right to produce such cards. This was yet another step towards the postcard’s worldwide success.
Interconnected postal services around the world
International postal services have existed since the early days of organized postal service in the 15th century. However, given the large amount of small state-like entities, international shipping remained a highly complicated affair for many centuries.
It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that the idea of coordinating postal services beyond a country’s own borders gained traction. At the suggestion of the US Postmaster General, an international Postal Conference was convened and took place in Paris from 11 May to 8 June 1863. 15 countries participated, Austria among them. Together, they established the guidelines for the conclusion of bilateral postal agreements in a total of 31 paragraphs. The “Universal Postal Union” was founded in 1874, which created a uniform postal area that covered all participating countries.
In 1883, the Postal Savings Bank was established, which continues being an important partner for Austrian Post to this day.
In the late 19th century, telecommunications also saw great progress following the invention of telegraphy in 1847.
The royal “post office on rails“
Mail services made great progress towards the end of the 19th century, especially because trains greatly increased mobility, at least by yesterday’s standards. However, it took a long time and quite a few negotiations until a business partnership between the postal service and the railway service was signed. It wasn’t until 1 August 1850 that the first “royal post office on rails” started operating on the route that connected Vienna to Oderberg. In 1914, approximately 700 train cars were used for shipping mail. In 1907, the first steps towards creating a car-based postal service were taken.
Major competition for carrier pigeons
Mail was not only moved on rails and roads, but also took to the air shortly after the first airplanes were invented. As is often the case, military interests accelerated the introduction of swift communication channels. The first airmail service, created in 1915, carried combat orders and messages relevant for war.
The first civil airmail service started operating between Vienna and Lviv in 1918. Service was first limited to Europe and extended to overseas destinations in 1928.
Tube mail in Vienna 1875-1956
Since postal services were largely dependent upon the available means of transportation, resourceful postal employees invented the so called “pneumatic tube mail facility”, which started operating in Vienna in 1875 and was used to move telegrams. For this purpose, Vienna was covered with a network of tube lines, covering a distance between one and three kilometres. Messages moved in these capsules reached their destination much faster than messages conveyed the traditional way. Initially, only ten postal offices were connected to each other, but in 1913, the network had grown to 53 locations on a total length of 825 kilometres. While the system remained relatively intact during World War I, it suffered severe damage during World War II. In addition, substantial progress in the telecommunication industry translated into major competition for the tube mail service. As a consequence, the service was discontinued in 1956.
In 1986, a special service called EMS (Express Mail Service) was introduced for priority shipping. EMS items are given priority handing in all stages of the shipping process. They are shipped by the fastest means of transportation available and also enjoy priority during customs clearance. Currently Austrian Post ships approximately 1.1 million EMS items per year. This goes to show that Austrian Post is keeping pace with technical innovations in the shipping industry of the 21th century as well. The ultimate goal behind this approach is to increase the delivery speed of postal items and to provide even better service to our clients.