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Post Offices of Europe 18th – 21st Century

A Comparative History


Muriel Le Roux and Sébastien Richez

The cursus publicus, established by the Roman Empire to connect all its conquered territories, may be considered to be the ancestor of all modern post offices. Therefore, mail service networks are part of an organization, dating from Antiquity, which is common to the entire European community.
From the 18th century onwards, the French mail service network may be divided into three successive phases. First, the consolidation of the transportation system that was being set up. Second, the development of the system’s ability to deal with increasing traffic (through broader human resources). Thirdly, the diversification of its operations and the development of its technical modernisation.
What was the situation in other European countries? Are there similarities and differences in how their networks were set up and organized? Finally, how did European Post Offices cooperate with each other in spite of their differences?
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European Influence on Postal Reform in 19th Century France: Olivier Bataillé



The reform of administrative services is hardly a new topic in the history of France. In the 19th century, public officials had certainly crossed paths with the subject, and the postal service was no exception to the rule. From the Restoration to the Third Republic, reform projects were so prolific that there was rapid development of postal services in France and elsewhere, due to significant economic growth after the Industrial Revolution. For this reason, the most industrialized western countries were the first to develop their postal networks: increasing exchanges of information and the diffusion of knowledge meant that enhanced channels of communication were a necessity. The French postal service experienced significant growth in its infrastructures and manpower as well as public services, especially in the last quarter of the century.

The development of the postal system in 19th century France was only made possible through numerous reforms. Those which allowed for improvements to the efficiency of service were of particular importance. However, the State’s deficit was a major obstacle to these reforms. In the 19th century the Post Office was a major provider of resources for the Treasury. Reforms that were demanded in order to improve service often met with resistance from overly cautious public officials who refused to abandon, even temporarily, the goldmine represented by the postal services. This fiscal vision of postal service management was a handicap to its development throughout the century. Several reform efforts confronted this obstacle.


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