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National Postal Museum: 'Behind the Badge' U.S. Postal Inspection Service

A postal inspector surveillance in the air, land, and sea
A postal inspector surveillance in the air, land, and sea
Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Postal Museum

Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum wants to present and recognize the oldest federal law enforcement agency, which is almost unknown to the people they work so hard to serve, protect and educate from becoming a victim.

An exhibit, which offers the tourist an opportunity to learn more about the U.S. Postal Inspection Service is named, “Behind the Badge,” which is a dynamic new exhibition created to display their accomplishments through several famous cases they played key roles, opening, June 27.

“When people think of the term ‘first responders,’ they may not realize that postal inspectors are part of that equation,” said Allen Kane, director of the National Postal Museum. “From 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy, some of the first boots on the ground were those of the dedicated men and women of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.”

The Postal Inspection Service has played major roles in arrests for prosecution of serious crimes of fraud, theft, robberies, drugs, child pornography, mail bombs, protect consumers, financial scams to include lotteries, and joint task force investigations to include international agencies and now the internet to name a few.

In 1772, a colonial Postmaster General Benjamin Franklin created the actual Postal Inspection Service; therefore, it can claim to be oldest federal law enforcement agency ever created in the United States. In fact, the Service’s beginnings predate the Declaration of Independence and therefore, the U.S.A.

During colonial times, Ben Franklin, was first appointed Postmaster General under the Continental Congress and later served at a cabinet level post as George Washington's first Postmaster. Actually, the individuals’ original title, which was first created by Franklin had been “Surveyor” to regulate and audit the mail.

In 1801, the title of "surveyor" changed to Special Agent. In 1830, the Special Agents were reorganized into the Office of Instructions and Mail Depredations. For some time, one of their primary duties was the enforcement of obscenity prohibitions under the Comstock Act.

The Postal Inspection Service was the first federal law enforcement agency to use the title Special Agent for its officers. Congress changed this title to Inspector in 1880.

"The exhibit showcases an important part of the mission of the Postal Inspection Service, protecting the American consumer from fraud. While arrest are always an effective deterrent to crime, we have found that educating consumers about fraud is a key component to preventing them from becoming victims of scams,” said Chief Postal Inspector, Guy Cottrell.