How Mr. ZIP Changed Our Lives

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When I was a kid my post office was “New York 9, New York.” The 9 was my postal zone. In 1962 it was changed to 10009. The new numerals were called “ZIP Codes” and were designed to speed up mail delivery.

Mr. ZIP was based on an original design by Howard Wilcox, son of a letter carrier and a member of the Cunningham and Walsh advertising agency, for use by a New York bank in a bank-by-mail campaign. Wilcox’s design was a child-like sketch of a postman delivering a letter. It was akin to the famous Good Guys smiley face.

zip 1

The Original Mr. ZIP

The original figure was used only a few times. Later, AT&T acquired the design and made it available to the Post Office Department at no cost. The Miami-based Post Office Department artist Joe Lawrence retained the face but sharpened the limbs and torso and added a mail bag.

The new figure, dubbed Mr. ZIP, was unveiled by the Post Office Department at a convention of postmasters in October 1962. Mr. ZIP, who has no first name, appeared in many public service announcements and advertisements urging postal customers to use the five-digit ZIP Code that was initiated on July 1, 1963. Within four years of his appearance, eight out of 10 Americans knew who he was. Now that’s branding.


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About Steven HellerSteven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.View all posts by Steven Heller →