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?

There's no easier joke in the world than one criticizing the U.S. Postal Service for being slow. How slow? It took them 19 years to decide to implement the service's most successful process improvement in its history: the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) code. Postal inspector Robert Moon submitted the original proposal for a numerical ZIP in 1944, but the U.S. Postal Service didn't get around to implementing non-mandatory ZIP codes until July 1, 1963. And you thought second-class parcel service moves a little slow.

So what were these zones that Moon wanted to improve? Beginning in 1943, the U.S. Postal Service assigned one- or two-digit numerical zones to major cities so that post offices serving these areas could more quickly determine to which part of, say, New York City a letter was headed. Moon wanted to preface these enumerated zone numbers with a three-digit code for the sectional center facility that bulk processed the mail for each area. To this day, ZIP codes still follow this general pattern. The first three digits indicate a processing facility, and the last two digits indicate a delivery zone — usually a local post office that serves the delivery area.

In 1983, 20 years after implementing the then-optional ZIP codes, the U.S. Postal Service adopted the still-optional +4 ZIP codes for additional precision. The +4 codes might represent a delivery area as discrete as a city block or a single apartment building.

The above rules apply mostly to Standard ZIP codes, but there are three other types: P.O. Box-only ZIP codes, Military ZIP codes, and Unique ZIP codes. The Unique ZIPs are for specific buildings or locations that receive such a high volume of (or such highly-sensitive) mail as to require special handling. For example, the White House is assigned ZIP code 20500, despite being physically located in ZIP code 20006. The main processing center for the Educational Testing Service — through which passes every SAT packet ever graded — has the Unique ZIP code 08541. A number of corporate HQs, government offices, and major universities have Unique ZIPs, but only once in its long and cautious history has the U.S. Postal Service ever granted a Unique ZIP code to a fictional character.


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By Jay Garmon

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...