Historic Postage Rates: Newspapers vs. Letters

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In the early U.S. republic, postage rates were much higher for personal letters compared to newspapers. Newspapers at that time were typically rather small — three to four times the size of a one-sheet letter.^ From 1792 to 1845, a four-sheet personal letter sent thirty miles cost in U.S. postage twenty-four times as much as for a four-sheet newspaper sent that distance. For distances over 500 miles, a personal letter cost sixty-seven times as much in postage as a newspaper did.^ For the U.S. postal service, personal letters greatly cross-subsidized newspapers:

In 1794, newspapers generated a mere 3 percent of postal revenue, while making up fully 70 percent of the weight. Forty years later, little had changed. In 1832, newspapers generated no more than 15 percent of total postal revenue, while making up as much as 95 percent of the weight.^ ^

Postage for letters was proportional to the number of sheets and increased with distance.^ Average postage per letter was an estimated 14 cents in 1794, 13 cents in 1799, and just under 10 cents in 1832 and 1844.^ ^ The latter figures suggest that a typical letter was a single sheet sent less than 80 miles. Rates for newspapers were much less differentiated: 1 cent for sending up to 100 miles, 1.5 cents for sending over 100 miles.

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