During a funding dispute with Congress in 1957, U.S. Postmaster General Arthur E. Summerfield canceled mail delivery Saturday, April 13, and threatened to end Saturday service altogether.
Citizens flooded Congress with complaints, Summerfield got his money, and Saturday service resumed, all within a week. "How often does Congress turn on a dime?" marveled Nancy Pope, historian and curator for the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.
In comparison, the Postal Service's announcement Wednesday that in August it will permanently end Saturday mail delivery prompted little outcry locally or nationwide -- a reflection of the profound cultural shifts in recent decades that have left the agency scrambling to find a new, more profitable business model.
Even senior citizens -- arguably the demographic with the heaviest reliance on the Postal Service -- said they can live without Saturday mail delivery.
"Keep all the bills till Monday," quipped Linda Fedorek, 66, a retired secretary from Greenfield.
"We just get junk mail anyway," said Marty Mathews, 64, a retired computer programmer from Uptown.
Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe said cutting back to five-day-a-week mail delivery will save the agency $2 billion annually. About 35,000 positions will be lost through attrition.
The postal service will continue Saturday package delivery, ensuring uninterrupted transportation of prescription medication, the agency said. In addition, post offices with Saturday hours will keep them, and Saturday delivery to post office boxes will continue.
Ms. Pope said six-day-a-week mail delivery has been a postal service staple since the agency began operating in parts of the nation in 1863.
The agency said an "unprecedented financial crisis," including losses of nearly $16 billion in its last fiscal year, required a dramatic change. It said polls showed that Americans support an end to Saturday mail and noted that the agency in recent years has taken numerous other steps to cut costs.
"The American public understands the financial challenges of the postal service and supports these steps as a responsible and reasonable approach to improving our financial situation," Mr. Donahoe said in a statement.
Online billing and bill payment, email and other cultural changes have undercut the postal service's traditional role. Since 2007, the volume of first-class, single-piece mail is down 37 percent, the agency said.
Twelve percent of FirstEnergy Corp.'s 6 million customers have elected to receive bills electronically only, and 50 percent of customers pay online, company spokesman Doug Colafella said. FirstEnergy, parent of Greensburg-based West Penn Power, this week launched a new smartphone app and mobile website that, among other features, are designed to make electronic bill payments still more convenient.
"Every year, fewer customers receive paper bills from us," Mr. Colafella said. He said he did not believe the end of Saturday mail delivery will cause any change in the company's billing cycle.
At one time, the postal service contemplated elimination of Saturday mail and Saturday package delivery.
But the latter has grown so much -- 14 percent in the past two years -- that the postal service decided to retain Monday-through-Saturday package delivery. During the most recent holiday season, the postal service delivered 400 million parcels, one of its highest volumes ever, said Tad Kelley, postal service spokesman in Pittsburgh.
Growing the package business -- the postal service actually cooperates with private carriers on package delivery, Mr. Kelley said -- is one way in which the agency is trying to reinvent itself.
Mr. Kelley said the agency wants Congress to authorize additional business ventures, such as selling insurance or providing notary services at post offices.
While Pittsburghers said they can live without Saturday delivery, they said the postal service remains an important part of their lives.
They said they trust the postal service, consider its rates reasonable (even though the cost of stamps recently increased 1 cent, to 46 cents) and value the watchful presence of letter carriers in their neighborhoods.
Some residents, such as Robert Lauten, who worries about identify theft, still appreciate the option of paying a bill by mail. "If I mail it, the only person I have to worry about is the postmaster," the 59-year-old Manchester resident said.
Joe Smydo: email@example.com or 412-263-1548. First Published February 7, 2013 5:00 AM