March 31 – Happy Birthday Abraham Singer

mailsortBack in the days before zip codes, mail scanners and airplanes, the US Post Office moved its mail by train and the mail was sorted by hand in specially designed railway post office cars by US Postal Clerks who traveled the train routes with the mail and sorted  the envelopes and packages along the way. At each stop they would drop off the mail intended for that area and pick up new mail sent from that area. As you might imagine, the sorting system was pretty complex. It was designed to separate the mail for each train stop by all the individual post offices served from that stop. The clerks would look at the address on the envelope and then place it into the slot or sack for the post office responsible for delivering it to that address.

If it sounds complicated it’s because it was. These mail clerks were expected to sort 600 pieces of mail per hour which means they had no time to manually look up the post office destination for an address. They needed to memorize them all and just to be sure they did, they were tested regularly. If they couldn’t pass these exams they lost their jobs. The passing score was 97%!

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant worked as one of these US Postal Clerks on a train that travelled from New York City to Buffalo, NY. It was his idea to come up with practice cards for the postal clerk sorting exams. Much like flash cards for practicing math, on one side of the card was the location of the train stop and on the other, the counties, cities and post offices served by that stop.

Abraham Singer was born to Lithuanian Jewish parents in New York City on March 31, 1874. His family returned to Lithuania shortly thereafter, where Abraham lived until he was 11-years-old. He then returned to America with his grandfather and they settled in Amsterdam, NY. He attended public schools here for a short time and then returned to New York City where he learned the printing trade. He then came back to Amsterdam and worked in the printing department of the Amsterdam Daily Democrat (now the Recorder). He then went back to the Big Apple, got the job as a US Postal Clerk and came up with the idea for his practice cards. He went out and got a printing press, put it in his tiny New York City apartment and began printing his new product.

Singer ended up moving back  to Amsterdam in 1909, where he …

The rest of Abraham Singer’s birthday post will be published in the second editionof A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam NY Birthdays, which will be available for sale right after Thanksgiving. To make sure you get your hands on one of the first copies, join my mailing list here.

The first edition of A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam NY Birthdays, which features my birthday posts for 320 current or former Amsterdam residents, is currently being sold at Liberty Fresh Market, on Route 30 in Amsterdam. You can also purchase it online here.

Abraham Singer shares his March 31 birthday with another one of Amsterdam’s most illustrious citizens.

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