The Postal Act of 1879
Even though mail classification was simplified to three classes in 1863, confusion continued particularly about postage rates for magazines and newspapers. The 1879 act better defined and created four classes of domestic mail: first class for letters, second class for periodicals and newspapers, third class for bulk mail and fourth class for books and other material. Congress felt that a cheap second-class rate would be beneficial by enabling greater dissemination of information for the public good.
1 1879 Classification Act
The primary purpose of the 1879 Postal Act, or Mail Classification Act, was to create a distinction between second and third class mail. Material deemed second class could be sent at a cheaper rate of two cents per pound. To qualify, a periodical needed to be numbered and printed at least four times a year, printed in a known location, printed without a bound cover and have a legitimate list of subscribers, among other requirements.
2 Significance of the Act
The 1879 act was simply meant to clarify and classify what belonged in the four classes of domestic mail. The U.S. Postal Service hoped it would bring additional revenue by limiting second class mail to periodicals. Beyond the cost issues, the act had a more significant effect: By lowering postage for periodicals, circulation in the magazine and newspaper industries exploded, helping spur changes in marketing and communications, as well as society overall. However, second class quickly became the fastest growing mail segment, eclipsing first class, and it soon became a burden on the postal service. To make matters worse the postal service also suspected that much of the mail being sent as second class did not qualify for the rate.