Nasa / Space

Geek Trivia: ZIP code of honor

Who is the only fictional character ever to be granted a U.S. Postal Service Unique ZIP code, a distinction normally reserved for corporations, universities, and government agencies that are routinely deluged with high volumes of mail delivered to a single address?
Who is the only fictional character ever to be granted a U.S. Postal Service Unique ZIP code, a distinction normally reserved for corporations, universities, and government agencies that are routinely deluged with high volumes of mail delivered to a single address?

Our imaginary celebrity is none other than Smokey Bear, the iconic ursine advocate of forest fire prevention. Smokey was created in 1944 by the Ad Council as a mascot for fire-prevention efforts during World War II, when lumber was a critical war resource. He grew so incredibly popular in the early 1960s -- and thus received so many letters from his fans -- that, in 1964, the U.S. Postal Service granted him his own ZIP code: 20252. By that point, a Unique ZIP code was small potatoes for Smokey; in 1952, the Smokey Bear Act was passed by Congress to take him out of public domain and place his image under the control of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, in perpetuity.

(Two asides: Yes, there was a real Smokey Bear. No, his name was not Smokey the Bear. The real Smokey was an American Black Bear cub rescued from a fire in Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico in 1950. He was named after the fictional Smokey and lived for more than 25 years at the National Zoo in Washington DC. His remains are interred at Smokey Bear National Park in Capitan, NM. The "the" in Smokey's name is not correct or official. The definite article was placed in Smokey's name for lyrical purposes in a 1952 hit song by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, which has led to some confusion, but Smokey's middle name is not the.)

To date, Smokey is the only fictional character to receive a Unique ZIP code, largely because the U.S. Postal Service prefers to route mail addressed to such figures to real, humorously appropriate addresses. For example, mail addressed to Santa Claus (assuming he's fictional) is routed to the post office in Santa Claus, Indiana (though the General Electric facility in Schenectady, NY often gets its share, thanks to its 12345 ZIP code, which many people assume is the ZIP code for the North Pole).

That's not just some parsimonious parcel parsing, it is an excellent epistolary example of Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best quibble from our assembled masses and discuss it in a future edition of Geek Trivia.

Check out this week's quibble.

Falling behind on your weekly Geek fix?

Check out the Geek Trivia Archive, and catch up on the most recent editions of Geek Trivia.

Test your command of useless knowledge by subscribing to TechRepublic's Geek Trivia newsletter. Automatically sign up today!

About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

42 comments
asdfasdf
asdfasdf

Hello ! While Americans may think they know how to send a letter to Santa Claus, Canadians know their letters will reach the Jolly Old Fellow! Canadian postal codes are letters and numbers (Toronto being M3...) Thus Santa Claus with his favourite line HO HO HO gets translated to H and (zero) H0 H0 H0 Have you been a good boy or girl this year? You know Canadians are always good!

aureolin
aureolin

Sam Spade is a fictional character, so is Santa Claus (sorry, Virginia); but Smokey was a very real bear who lived and died. You even mention this in your article! How can something that really lived and really died be fictional? This bit o' trivia would be better described as the only animal with it's own ZIP, er, Postal, code. Steve G.

tjbud
tjbud

Santa also hangs out at the North Pole Theme Park in Cascade, Colorado, about 10 miles west of Colorado Springs on Highway 24. The ZIP code there is 80809. You can send letters there to be postmarked and mailed (you pay them for the postage). The postmark says: North Pole, Colorado, with a nice picture of the elf himself. Also, letters to Santa are answered for free. I think many letters in the US simply addressed to Santa, North Pole, are sent there.

Ike_C
Ike_C

The USPS is slow, no doubt, but you ought to have to deal with Postal Services in other countries. In a number of countries a letter will only get there if it looks like there is nothing of value inside. I know that for a fact. Even then you are lucky if, one, it gets there, and two, it gets there within a month's time.

somethinggood4
somethinggood4

Everyone knows, the North Pole is located in Canada (some "international site of interest" politicking notwithstanding) and hence, Santa's Postal Code (which follows the letter-number-letter (space) number-letter-number format standard in Canada is H0H 0H0! GP

Roc Riz
Roc Riz

Geeze... My first guess was Santa Claus. Surely Santa gets more mail than Smokey!

alpha_jade
alpha_jade

You do come up with the coolest info. I don't know where you get this stuff but, keep it up. You give geeks a good name.

sherm99577
sherm99577

What about North Pole Alaska? Post office Address in North Pole is: 325 S Santa Claus LN North Pole, AK 99705-9998 Santa's house is right down the street too.

sysop-dr
sysop-dr

Santa Clause does not have a zip code as that would make him some place in the states. But he does have a Canadian Postal Code because he lives at the north Pole and Canada claims the North Pole as Canadian territory. The postal code for Santa is a standard Postal code comprised of 2 sections the first section is a letter, number, letter combination and the second is a Number Letter number combo resulting in H0H-0H0.

swstephe
swstephe

Santa Claus' ZIP code is 47579 ... oh, wait, that's the town of Santa Claus, Indiana ... but the Post Office used the town as the official zip code for Santa Claus, the fictional character for a while.

support
support

As an aside, here in Canada, Santa's Postal Code (our equivalent to the ZIP) is HOH OHO.....

seanferd
seanferd

Does Smokey have a 4-digit as well? Do people really think that places outside the U.S. (incl. territories, possessions, military, etc.) have a ZIP code? Or is that just the quickest answer that they can come up with when the kids unexpectedly ask for one? :)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

You're the sixth person to post it. And the fifth person to not read the thread before posting it. ;)

jasondlnd
jasondlnd

The fictional character came first (1944, according to the article). The real bear was named after the fictional character in 1950. Although there was a real Smokey Bear, the zip code was not given to him, rather his fictional counterpart.

SID S-1-1
SID S-1-1

Although the magnetic North Magnetic Pole is in Canada, is actually moves slowly (implying a somewhat nomadic lifestyle for Santa). The more-or-less fixed (although subject to slight "Chandler wobble"), North Geographic Pole is at precisely 90 degrees North Latitude, in international waters, more than 400 miles from the nearest land, in Greenland.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

But apparently not back then. I remember writing to Smokey back when I was in grade school. Heck, it was a graded assignment at most schools where I grew up.

jerseyjoe
jerseyjoe

I know that Santa's Workshop, outside Wilmington, NY, has it's own post office so you can send children letter that are post marked from the North Pole.

mjd420nova
mjd420nova

North Pole, Alaska is what you might call a suburb of Fairbanks, Alaska. No where near the real North Pole.

Popoyd
Popoyd

If not precise ;) at least this one is surely closer to Santa than Indiana, right?

Snuffy.
Snuffy.

Since the Geographic North Pole (true north, 90 degrees north latitude) is in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, wouldn't that put it in international waters (or ice as the case may be)? Now if you're talking the Magnetic North Pole, there may be some room for argument. - Snuffy -

fof9l
fof9l

... because that's where a postal code starting with an "H" would officially put it. Never thought of that one before. Don't tell the PQ though!

jim.blalock
jim.blalock

Don't that beat all. I thought you had a system like the UK...

wwest
wwest

Huh. As it happens, my wife's house is in the Lincoln Forest. Our zip code is 88317 (Cloudcroft, NM). I wonder why they didn't use an 88xxx zip? Canadian postal codes are cool: the higher the letter and the higher the number, the more out in the sticks you are. Or so I heard. And aren't they supposed to be written with a space in the middle, so Santa should be H0H 0H0? The one that makes (almost) no sense to me is England's. Very strange.

tommy.petersson
tommy.petersson

"Do people really think that places outside the U.S. (incl. territories, possessions, military, etc.) have a ZIP code?" Do *you* really think that US is the only country with zip codes, or the equivalent of them? 117 countries in the World Postal Union (sp?) have zip codes...

fof9l
fof9l

Just a thought - I wonder if the increase in the number of essentially duplicated responses from various posters, indicating as you say that they probably hadn't read the thread before posting a reply, may reflect the people reading their emails on portable devices like Crackberries, 3G phones, etc., where you get your email directly. I don't know whether Crackberry users get to see the rest of the threads (I don't use one!) but I suspect they just see the content of the email, and therefore respond directly to it. Just an idle thought...

criddel74
criddel74

So, if my daughter sends a letter to say Santa Claus North Pole, Canada HOH OHO The letter will be answered?

fof9l
fof9l

It's more granular than the US ZIP system, but less so than the UK.

somethinggood4
somethinggood4

Canadian POstal Codes are arranged more or less alphabetically from east to west. Here in Toronto, all the PCs start with "M" M1_ #A# starts in the east end of Scarborough, M2 is northeast, M3 northwest, M4 southeast, M5 downtown (south) M6 SW, M8 west and M9 even further west. M7 is reserved for the provincial legislature. In Ontario, the letters start with K in the east and get progressively further when you go west, ending with P in the for north on the Manitoba border. Five months in the shipping depsrtment and you learn a few things! ;) GP

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I suspect they used a 2xxxx zip for Smokey because he spent 25 years at the National Zoo, Washington, DC 20013. But I could be wrong.

seanferd
seanferd

We're talking about mailing stuff from the U.S., as per the article. I didn't say "postal codes" in general. I refer specifically to U.S. "ZIP codes". What is your damage? Didn't sound cosmopolitan enough? I'll be more specific next time, as the comment was specifically aimed at the provincial. Edit: Wow, I hadn't intended to start a whole "thing" here.

fof9l
fof9l

The granularity - or rather, lack of granularity - of the ZIP code is one of the penalties of being "first on the block" with a system. Rather like NTSC colour on TVs, which is also outdated and poor. In the UK, every address has a postcode, and its granularity is such that all you need is a house or apartment number plus the code, and your mail will get to you. Street names are usually unnecessary, and certainly you never need to include a town name. If you buy something over the phone with a Visa card, and the operator needs your address, (s)he will simply ask for your postcode and your house or apartment number. Virtually all UK businesses are plumbed into the National Postcode directory. Satnav and online mapping systems here also accept postcodes as input, and people are now starting to include them on, say, invitations to wedding receptions instead of enclosing road directions to the reception. As often happens, the US is way behind in some of the more advanced technologies.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

ZIP is an abbreviation for "[u]Z[/u]oning [u]I[/u]mprovement [u]P[/u]lan and was a registered trademark of the US Post Office. Only the US could come up with a special name for postal codes... ;)

bgiroux
bgiroux

"Do *you* really think that US is the only country with zip codes, or the equivalent of them? 117 countries in the World Postal Union (sp?) have zip codes..." Erm...yes...the US is the only country to have ZIP codes. The 117 countries that belong to the UPU (Universal Postal Union) use postcodes. And, for the record, the *official* postal code for Santa Claus is H0H 0H0, which is an address in Canada. It's not just Canadian letters that are received there, but letters from all around the world go there. And, every year, hundreds of helpers answer every letter.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I suspect, though, that people are reading the original post and replying to that without bothering to even read the post titles they have to scroll past to get to the Reply fields. edit: gotta find a keyboard that can spell!

mdhealy
mdhealy

The fundamental advantage of how many places outside the USA design their codes is that, just like automobile plates, a shorter string of alphanumerics encodes the same information. For example, three letters and three digits allow more codes than seven digits -- AND are easier for a human to remember.

TechinMN
TechinMN

"As often happens, the US is way behind in some of the more advanced technologies", in reference to being able to use a postal code to pinpoint an exact location. Two things: First, the US is just a LITTLE big larger than a few islands, and achieving that type of granularity would create quite a long code. Unless you use grid coordinates...with that we can pinpoint to much less than a meter. But then that wouldn't be as accurate, either, in multi-level dwellings. Second, does Canada have that type of granularity? If not, I'd stop throwing rocks from your glass house. LOL

Ceespace
Ceespace

UK Area: total: 244,820 sq km land: 241,590 sq km water: 3,230 sq km note: includes Rockall and Shetland Islands Population: 60,943,912 (July 2008 est.) USA Area: total: 9,826,630 sq km land: 9,161,923 sq km water: 664,707 sq km note: includes only the 50 states and District of Columbia Population: 303,824,646 (July 2008 est.) just here for information - not even had a good look at the figures yet to see if they have anything interesting to say (which they probably don't)

SID S-1-1
SID S-1-1

The 11-digit code of which you speak is what's encoded in the POSTNET barcode (which also includes a check digit).

dpickren
dpickren

If you use the ZIP+4, and then add the last 2 digits of your address, that is all you need in the USA. Try it. I did. Showed up at my door 3 days later from 3 states away. For example, if I lived at 803 Locust, Anywhere, USA, 12345-7890... I could send a letter to "12345-7890-03" as the ONLY address, and it would make it to my house.

bfpower
bfpower

ZIP+4 will typically narrow it down to the level of granularity you speak of, such as a single apartment building or a city block.

Popoyd
Popoyd

If you wanted such granularity in the US you would need a REALLY long postal code. You can't compare the size and population of the UK and those of the US. Mexico uses 6 digit postal codes and that usually doesn't even tell you the neighbourhood, let alone the street. Mexico is 1/4 the population of the US, and less than that in territory. Do you know the comparative size of the UK?