The history of mail

We have been delivering your mail for more than 200 years, in the Netherlands and abroad. For a long time, PostNL was the only postal company in the Netherlands.

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18th century

1799 - 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


Mail coaches

19th century

1844 - Mail trains

1852 - Stamps

Trams and carts

Dog cart
Dog cart

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.

1881 - Parcels


Female mail deliverers (1942)
Female mail deliverers (1942)

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.

Beginning of the 20th century

Mail school

Higher Mail and Telegraph School (1924)
Higher Mail and Telegraph School (1924)

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.



First World War


Field post office, Middelburg, 1918
Field post office, Middelburg, 1918

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.

1921 - Mail car

Mail car, 1929
Mail car, 1929

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.

1925 - Door-to-door

1926 - Sub post offices

1931 - Mail sorting automation

Transorma sorting machine, 1947
Transorma sorting machine, 1947

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

Post office in ruins
Post office in ruins

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.

1944 - Railway strike

1945 - Post-war reconstruction

Second half of the 20th century

1953 - North Sea Flood

Mail delivery after the flood
Mail delivery after the 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 - Delivery

1976 - Post code

The ‘80s - Mobile Post office

The ‘80s - Cassette tape mail

Cassette tape mail
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.

1989 - Privatisation and division

Split-up stamp, 1998
Split-up stamp, 1998

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.

21th century

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.

2002 - Social responsibility

2011 - PostNL

We would like to thank the Dutch Communication Museum, which has supplied some of the photographs on this page. 

You can find more historical PostNL images on iconenvandepost.nl. All Dutch stamp designs can be found on postzegelontwerpen.nl, a website of the Dutch Communication Museum.