The nationalisation of mail
In 1799, mail was declared to be national in the Netherlands. In practice, postal traffic was concentrated in Holland, as the connections with the rest of the Netherlands and the country were still quite limited. In the countryside, mail was therefore - despite the nationalisation - mainly delivered through private endeavours.
Postman on foot
The postman walked from city to city, carrying the mail under his arm. He delivered the mail to those who had ordered it, who then delivered it to the addressees. This was the main method of transporting mail in the 18th century. Postmen would walk around eight hours a day.
The French introduced the postilion in the 18th century. Transporting mail went a lot faster on horseback.
Mail coaches were able to transport much more mail than postilions. When the mail had to be transported over a river, the mail was unloaded from the coach onto a ship, which brought it to the other side. From there, it was loaded into another mail coach.
From 1844 onward, mail was delivered throughout the country by train. From the stations the mail was delivered to the customer using coaches and other methods. The mail was initially carried on a passenger train in a different train car. In 1973, special mail trains were used. The first night train was used in 1905. By transporting mail at night and sorting it in the train, mail could be delivered to the right address as early as the day after it was sent. The first electric mail train was used in 1952. The train has a long way to go before disappearing from the Dutch world of mail. Mail was transported on railways up to 1997.
Stamps were introduced in 1852. It was the introduction of a system in which the sender pays a fixed rate in advance. Before then, the receiver paid. Paying postage was seen as a symbol of status. Stamps were therefore not particularly welcomed at first.
Trams and carts
The railway network expanded in the second half of the 19th century. The steam tram was also used to transport mail. Postmen no longer walked the streets on foot. Inaccessible locations were reached with a dog cart: a small mail cart pulled by a dog.
From 1881 onwards, postal transport and delivery included parcels as well as mail. Before that time, parcels were passed along on public transport, but many locations could not be reached that way.
Women first started working at the post offices towards the end of the 19th century. Later on, women would play a major role within the company. In both the First and the Second World War, men were called up for military service. During this time, this resulted in a labour shortage, which also meant that women started delivering mail.
The Hogere Post- en Telegraafschool (Higher Mail and Telegraph School) was founded at the start of the twentieth century. The students were trained for a career at PTT. Because of reasons including national insurance, extra legal and administrative schooling was needed.
In Amsterdam, mailboxes were attached to the backs of trams. That way, they could be emptied into a collection box at Central Station. It wasn’t until the ‘60s that double mailboxes arrived, in which the customer had to sort their mail themselves - into local mail and mail to other destinations.
At the start of the twentieth century, the walking postmen and the postmen with carts in the countryside were given bicycles. This made delivery a lot faster and less labour-intensive.
First World War
Employees were scarce due to military service. Men were employed in the army postal service, in which mail was brought to and from the fronts. Women were brought in to make up for the shortage, but it was not enough. Other companies also paid higher wages. Transport encountered many problems: trains were cancelled due to the coal shortage and cars were not an option because of the shortages of rubber and fuel. Old methods were reintroduced: the postilion and the mail coach returned. In addition, the walking postmen again played an important role during this time.
The car was first used as a means of mail transport in 1913. In 1921, the use of the mail car really took off. The car was mainly used as a replacement for the coaches and postilions. The train however remained essential for longer distances. From the end of the ’50s, the car gained increasing importance.
As early as 1925, the commercial benefit of door-to-door newspapers and advertising was discovered and employed. Postmen who already delivered mail to the same addresses could deliver brochures without too many extra costs.
Sub post offices
The first sub post office was founded in 1926. A sub post office is an independent shop where a range of postal services are provided at a special desk.
Mail sorting automation
The first mail sorting automation was employed in 1931. Using the Transorma, a Dutch invention, employees were able to sort mail two to three times faster than by hand. Many women did this work as well.
Second World War
The end of an efficient postal network
The Second World War put an end to the efficient postal network. Railways and tram ways were damaged by bombings. Cars and bicycles were no longer a viable alternative, due to shortages in fuel and rubber. The walking postmen and mail delivery on horseback once again returned in mail delivery.
Many men had to report to the Arbeidseinsatz, so women were mostly on their own. Some services, like parcel delivery, could not be provided. That meant that food was scarce in many towns and cities.
In 1944, a railway strike brought mail transport to a halt. People had to resort to cargo bicycles and bicycle relays to continue delivering mail. In that period, it sometimes took up to a month before a mail item reached its destination.
After the Second World War, letter mail was a crucial means of communication. The telegraph and the telephone did not work that well yet. The transport network had some recovering to do: trains had been confiscated by occupying forces and the whole train system was in poor condition.
And yet, PTT found a solution in the form of rental cars and Canadian military vehicles. Planes were even used between Amsterdam, Eindhoven, Maastricht, Groningen and Leeuwarden. By improvising, mail was thus able to provide much-needed communication for a country in reconstruction. Bicycles, horses and the walking postmen again drifted into the background. From 1947 onwards, we saw the dawn of the train network, including night trains.
North Sea Flood
The North Sea Flood of 1953 was a tough period. Large parts of Zeeland and South-Holland were flooded, and it was during that time that communication was crucial. People were forced out of their homes or had lost their homes, and many people could not be reached or could not be reached easily. Mail was therefore transported and delivered by boats, or postmen travelled long distances over embankments to reach the houses.
The end of the '60s
Mail used to be delivered several times a day. It was even sometimes delivered four times a day in large cities, but mostly twice a day in thinly populated areas. Towards the end of the '60s, developments in transport allowed for mail to often be delivered as early as the first order. Later orders became unprofitable and were phased out of the system.
In the fourth quarter of the twentieth century, PTT started using computer-based sorting machines. This necessitated incorporating a new element in addresses: the post code. In 1976, this was also incorporated for bulk mail. From April 1980 onwards, post codes were also used for loose mail.
Mobile Post office
In thinly populated areas, sub post offices that turned losses instead of profits were forced to close down. As an alternative, they came up with the mobile Post office, so that people in the affected areas still had a place to go for all their postal affairs.
Cassette tape mail
There were special cassette tapes on which people could record their ‘letters’ before sending them. This was a great success, typical of the 1980s.
Privatisation and division
The PTT was privatised in 1989. That merged PTT Post with PTT Telecom into one subsidiary of the Koninklijke PTT Nederland (KPN: Royal PTT The Netherlands). This separation from the state created more commercial opportunities and brought more room for entrepreneurship. PTT Post kept its monopoly position.
After taking over the Australian TNT, PTT Post became large enough to continue independently. This implied a division in the company, after which PTT Telecom continued under the name KPN. PTT Post was renamed TNT Post Groep (TPG). The division was finalised on 28 June 1998.
Digitisation and liberalisation
At the beginning of the 21st century, two developments came together. The first was the increasing digitisation, which led to a decline in physical mail. The second was the liberalisation of the post market, creating more room for competition. At the beginning of the 21st century, the company was therefore radically restructured. TPG became TNT Post. The company responded to digitisation by offering innovative services like online invoicing and direct mail services.
During this time, TNT Post did not neglect its social responsibility. In 2002, the company started its collaboration with the World Food Programme. And 2007 saw the beginning of Planet Me, a carbon emission-reduction programme.
The two large TNT divisions, Mail and Express, grew apart more and more, each with their own strategies. In 2011, TNT Express separated, and the postal company continued as PostNL.