In the early history of the Post Office, how to handle letters that were undeliverable as addressed became a vexing problem. They couldnt just be thrown away, becuae it would damage the advertised integrity and security of the mail.
By the end of the 19th century, it wasn't uncommon for dead letter offices to handle as many as 23,000 pieces of mail a day.
About 40 percent of the mysterious pieces of mail were reunited with a sender or a recipient.
Later, as more valuables were coming to the dead letter offices, some hiring preferences were put in place. Retired clergymen were hired for their honesty and more women were added as they were thought to be better an analyzing complex and complicated addresses.
Today, with the Mail Recovery Center in Atlanta, the volume is much larger and the process much more complex.
Last year, about 82 million items were processed by the MRC. Of that total, 57 percent of items were determined to be of "possible value" and were returned or forwarded.
What is your experience with the Mail Recovery Center? Did they ever find something that has surprised you? Comment here.
Read the Smithsonian article here.