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A letter carrier eats lunch in a mailbox.

The photo was taken by a National Geographic photographer in Hays, Kansas in 1951.

Photograph by Jack Fletcher, National Geographic

Johnna Rizzo

National Geographic News

Published February 8, 2013

The United States Post Office announced this week that it intends to stop Saturday letter delivery beginning in August, 32 years after Congress mandated a sixth day of mail service.

First class mail volume has been dropping by about five billion pieces annually since 2007. And the USPS operated almost $16 billion dollars in the red in 2012.

In the 1950s, when this photo was taken, the federal agency was more flush with money. Five hundred thousand employees carried 54 billion items when National Geographic magazine published the article "Everyone's Servant, the Post Office" in July of 1954. Mail volume had doubled since the previous decade, and was growing at a rate of about seven percent a year.

This photo from 1951 didn't make it into that article, landing instead in the National Geographic image archive. Working during the postal boom years, this mailman delivering to houses in Hays, Kansas, likely didn't have time to notice the slight.

National Geographic photographer John E. Fletcher explained the mailman's decision to lunch in a mailbox in a note on the back of the photo.

"He told me that a new regulation from the Washington headquarters of the U.S. Post Office required that postmen while on delivery at noontime must stop and have their lunch at the spot, rather than taking time off to go home and eat," Fletcher wrote.

"This mailman told me that each day his wife would drive to this particular corner and meet him and hand him his lunch box," he continued. "The most convenient spot that he could find to eat his lunch was to open a storage mail box, get himself comfortably seated, and eat his lunch right on the street corner."

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of pieces that looks at the news through the lens of the National Geographic photo archives.

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