The ZIP Code was launched 60 years ago this month as part of a program of improvements to increase postal delivery speed.
At the time, Americans were already struggling to adapt to three-digit area codes for long-distance telephone calls, so promoting the five-digit ZIP (short for Zone Improvement Plan) Code was a tough sell.
To help get the word out and encourage the widespread adoption of ZIP Codes, the Post Office Department enlisted the aid of an ad agency.
These efforts included:
• Ethel Merman singing of the virtues of ZIP Codes to the tune of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”;
• Public service announcements in newspapers, on radio and TV, and on buses and rapid transit;
• “ZIP Code” — a catchy, kitschy 15-minute film starring the Swingin’ Six musical group — which won a silver medal at the 1966 International Film and TV Festival for explaining the rationale behind the code; and
• Mr. ZIP, the new code’s mascot, which worked wonders in bringing it to public attention.
The full-court press paid off: By the end of the decade, the use of ZIP Codes had become established practice.
Today, the code has expanded to ZIP+4 and its uses have spread well beyond the Postal Service.
Social scientists, businesses, demographers and others use the codes to interpret, organize and disseminate data.