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Project Turnkey: 1963

Project Turnkey: 1963

February 7, 1963. Providence, Rhode Island. "Post Office employees sitting at Central Control System overlooking work area." 35mm acetate negative by Thomas J. O'Halloran for the U.S. News & World Report assignment "Automated Post Office." View full size.

1959: "A Post Office Ordered With Full Automation"

        WASHINGTON, Feb. 3 -- Orders for the construction of "Project Turnkey," the nation's first fully mechanized Post Office, were given today by Postmaster Arthur E. Summerfield. The office will be built and equipped in Providence, R.I., by Intelex Systems Inc. of New York for an estimated cost of $20 million. Intelex, a subsidiary of International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation, will then lease it to the Post Office Department for twenty years at an annual rental of $1.4 million. The mail will be entirely handled by machinery ... " (N.Y. Times, Feb. 4, 1959)

1961: "House Group Finds Automated P.O. 'Fails Miserably' "

        A House subcommittee charged yesterday that Project Turnkey, the new automated post office in Providence, R.I., has "failed miserably" to meet expectations and that its cost to the Government appears to be "grossly excessive." (Washington Post, March 2, 1961)


On Shorpy:
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Anecdotal stories

Seeing comments about lost or destroyed items in the post... I often wonder if most are anecdotal at best or outright fabrications at worst.

I'm 59 years old and can only recall two times that I've ever experienced anything that was lost in the mail and only one time an item was damaged and it was more due to poor packaging and sending the item as "Media Mail".

Even at the cost of a stamp today (58 cents), it's still an amazing deal. How in the world can you justify complaining about the cost of sending a letter across the country, usually in 2-3 days, for such a pittance? Clearly no inkling of the logistics involved.

Project Turnkey (poor choice of names) was ahead of it's its time.

Not Stamped Out

The post office promoted Operation Turnkey with its own stamp in 1960, but startup problems prompted the next postmaster to suggest "knocking out the 'n' in turnkey". They must have eventually made it work, because they still process mail there today.

Sixty Years Later ...

It is now 60+ years later and the system is still not fixed. Sure, they can deliver junk mail with amazing grace and speed, but try getting an important letter or package just next door and they will lose it or destroy it nearly every time, sometimes both.

["Nearly every time"? Certainly not. In my own personal and business experience, the U.S. postal system is quite reliable. - Dave]

I see the problem:

Too many clipboards, not enough screens.

Who thinks up these names?

Hearing "Project Turnkey" reminds me that Homer Simpson got his job as a safety inspector at the nuclear power plant through "Operation Bootstrap."

Another triumph of government contracting?

I wonder if the USPS conducted a best-value examination of bids before awarding the contract, or required a satisfactory demonstration using the actual messy variety of mail before accepting the project, or formally inspected the operation before the contractor's warranty expired, or asked for a performance bond. Who knows? Anyone care to guess?

[There was no USPS until the 1970s; before then it was the Post Office Department. - Dave]

Reminds me

Of Homer Simpson’s workplace.

GSA Chairs AND a Radio?

I love those old GSA chairs, complete with the worn-through armrests. I can remember how they felt to sit in, and even how they rolled across the floor.

But on the console, behind the guy on the right, do I spy an AM/FM tuner? Something to pacify those on the floor who have to undo whatever the Turnkey did?

500 million letters CAN be wrong

That's how much First Class Postage $20M would have bought in 1959; rates had gone up that year, and it was the start of a trend: postage inflation - 15 fold - is about twice that of the CPI.

Hold the starch!

I thought it was a dry cleaners! lol

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