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Robert Moon; Postal Official Helped Invent the ZIP Code

April 15, 2001|From Times Wire Services

LEESBURG, Fla. — Robert Aurand Moon, the postal official who helped invent the ZIP Code system and later was director of delivery services for the U.S. Postal Service, has died.

Moon died Wednesday in a nursing home here after a lengthy illness. He was 83.

Moon began working on the idea for a modern delivery system in 1944. Up to that time, much of the nation's mail was carried on railway mail cars. The mail was sorted by postal employees as trains traveled across the country.

Moon believed that the existing railway system could not handle the huge volumes of mail expected in the postwar era. His first plan was for an elementary system of "address coding" to facilitate the distribution of letters and parcels by mechanical means.

That elementary system, a three-digit code that referred to the general region of the country that the mail was bound for, was later supplemented with a final two digits, which designated a smaller delivery area.

The postal service credits Moon with creating the first three digits and says the final two digits were added by other postal workers.

In any case, the five-digit ZIP (for Zoning Improvement Plan) Codes first appeared in postal directories on July 1, 1963.

The ZIP system and the advent of mechanized regional centers improved the speed and reliability of mail service.

A native of Williamsport, Pa., Moon began his lengthy career with the post office as a letter carrier and then was a clerk in his hometown post office.

He later took the exam for postal inspector and scored such high marks that the college degree requirement was waved. Moon worked first in Chicago, then in Philadelphia.

Moon retired from the postal service in 1965, but was called back in 1970 to become director of delivery services. In that job, he had responsibility for the delivery system nationwide. He retired again in 1977.

Moon is survived by his wife, Barbara Moon, of Mount Dora, Fla., and two sisters.

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