Zip codes were invented in 1963 to help the United States Postal Service deal with huge increases in mail volume. The Zone Improvement Plan, or “ZIP” code system of addressing, organized mail delivery by dividing the country into 10 regions and assigning five digits increasing in specificity: from region to large sorting centers to smaller post offices. To promote the new system, the USPS released publicity materials featuring Mr. Zip, a cartoon character, and a song about zip codes from a band called The Swingin’ Six.
As the nation grew, the USPS updated zip codes by adding a four-digit suffix in 1983. The new suffix corresponded to specific destinations, such as one side of a street or a certain floor of an office building. Now, geocoding technology has created the possibility of even more specific addressing.
Check out the video above to learn more about how zip codes came to be and how people are working to improve addressing by creating alternative systems.