- Cullman, Alabama


January 2, 2013

COMMENTARY: Did You Tip Your Mail Carrier This Year? And Do You Know Why?

Tipping at Christmas and New Year's is a long-standing American custom. We tend to give a little extra around the holidays to those who provide personal, often intimate, services — the people who deliver our mail, cut our hair, clean our houses, care for our children, and open the doors to our apartment buildings.

We can thank newsboys for popularizing this tradition centuries ago. The "carriers" who delivered the first American newspapers to subscribers were typically printers' assistants. Like many in today's service industries, they often worked for low wages, or only for room and board, and relied on yearly tips as crucial supplements to their income.

To encourage these tips, newsboys delivered an annual "carrier's address" to each subscriber, on Christmas or New Year's Day. Printed on a large broadside sheet, like a poster, a carrier's address contained original verse recapping the major events from the previous year, offered good wishes for the New Year, and reminded patrons of the faithful service they had received from their carrier. The first known address was printed in 1720, and the practice persisted at least until the 1950s.

The addresses were partly genuine expressions of thanks and good wishes. But newsboys also weren't shy about asking for money. One delivery boy for the New York Gazette placed an ad in his own newspaper on Jan. 2, 1758, asking his patrons to be generous, even though he was a day late getting out his annual address. Having to deliver the weekly paper on New Year's Day, he had his hands full:

"Lawrence Sweeney, the Carrier of the New York Gazette, hopes the Customers thereto will REMEMBER his past Services, by a New Year's Gift," the ad read, "when he waits on them Tomorrow with his YEARLY VERSES, the Expedition with which he travels on Mondays not allowing him Time even to take any Thing that may be offered him ToDay."

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