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What is Snail Mail?

By Kathy Hawkins
Updated May 23, 2024
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"Snail mail" is a term used to refer to mail that is sent in the traditional way — through the postal service — rather than by email, fax, or other electronic means of communication. It is given this name because it can be very slow, as is a snail. Postal mail generally takes two or three days to go from origin to destination, if not many more, whereas email can be sent instantly.

With email, a message is sent directly from a user's mail program to another person's email address. Though many email messages simply contain words, they may also include photos or other digital files, such as songs, or links to websites. Since most people in Western society now use email on a regular basis, snail mail has gone out of fashion for simple letters, though it is still necessary for sending packages or legal documents that require signatures.

Though the postal service seems to have gone out of style for many uses today, it has a long history all over the world. The first postal systems in the world originated in Persia and China, and date back to possibly as early as 1700 BC. These early mail systems relied on messengers who rode horses from town to town, and most mail was delivered to government officials or royals.

Today, snail mail is sent through both public and private services, and it can be delivered internationally. In the United States, the US Postal Service is the most common method of delivery for a letter or package, though private carriers are frequently used by online retailers to ship their goods. Under the postal service method, individuals pay for the service by pasting stamps on their letter or package, which are equivalent to a specific amount of money. The price to send a piece of mail varies depending on the package's weight and whether or not it is traveling internationally.

Until the 1990s, it was very common to send personal letters using the postal service. Many people have stored collections of letters from friends and loved ones, and the personal correspondence of many writers, artists, and other celebrities have been compiled into books. With the advent of email communication, postal mail is used much less frequently for personal letters; however, it is still the only method for sending larger packages from one place to another. Although its uses have changed over the years, it is still a valuable system.

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Discussion Comments
By Mykol — On Oct 20, 2012

The US Postal Service has sure gone through a lot of changes in the last several years. I can't help but think that email and technology have played a big part in that. Some of the smaller post offices across our state have closed down. Our delivery service is also quite slow and some days we don't receive our snail mail until 7:00 pm.

The cost of a postage stamp keeps going up as well. I pay almost all of my bills online anymore and rarely send one in the mail. When you think about the number of other people who do the same thing, that is a huge chunk of money the postal service is losing out on every year.

By andee — On Oct 20, 2012

I have always said that my grandpa would have loved email. He had 6 kids and would write letters to them on a regular basis. He also loved to share jokes and would clip something funny out of the newspaper to send along with the letter.

Many times he would include letters he had received from some of the other kids. This was one way he helped the siblings stay in touch and know what was going on because they were scattered about in several states.

Using something like email to keep everyone up to date and sharing a good joke with everyone would have been a lot of fun for him. There is something special about a hand written letter, but I think that email is more efficient.

By bagley79 — On Oct 19, 2012

I very seldom write letters anymore but will use snail mail to send cards to friends and family, such as a birthday or a sympathy card.

I know there are many online greeting card sites where you can send a card through email, but I still prefer to send a card through the postal service. I usually always include a short personalized note that is not nearly as long as a letter would be, but it lets them know I am thinking about them.

By golf07 — On Oct 18, 2012
@anon276094 -- I agree that there is nothing quite like receiving a hand written letter in the mail. When I was a girl I had penpals that I would correspond with through snail mail. I have always enjoyed both sending and receiving letters in the mail and agree that an email does not have the same personal touch.
By anon276094 — On Jun 21, 2012

Snail mail, or normal post, as you call it, will never end. It is not the same to receive a physical letter as a virtual thing. I guess we humans shall not lose the ability to interact with friends as in the past. It gives some kind of human touch, Don't you think?

By anon242092 — On Jan 21, 2012

So basically it's letter mail? Cool.

By anon110989 — On Sep 14, 2010

i hate frying potatoes which in german is called potatoes laura while it takes long time to get fried and to be right. my preference is more for french fries(potatoes ratte) which cook faster.

By anon106568 — On Aug 26, 2010

Someone sent my item that i won on ebay snail mail and it's been weeks. It's the slowest process i have ever had to wait on. If someone is going to send you something using snail mail i would say good luck. I don't have three or four weeks to wait around for the item.

By anon104604 — On Aug 17, 2010

Today is the first time I heard about snail mail and this is the first website that gives me all I want to know about it. Thanks.

By anon76010 — On Apr 08, 2010

snail mail is slower than email but is more reliable than email.

By anon70684 — On Mar 15, 2010

Maybe you could talk about the difference between email and snail mail. That would be great!

By anon51932 — On Nov 10, 2009

i had a package sent to me using snail mail and i haven't received it yet. my question is, how long does it take for international deliveries? and how can i find out if it is still on the way or not?

By anon38652 — On Jul 27, 2009

Doesn't "snail mail" more specifically refer to non-expedited postal mail? That is, mail that is not first class or overnight or priority 2-day, etc. It's just slapping the minimum postage on a letter/package and dropping it off at the mailbox or post office.

Or so I thought...

By anon25439 — On Jan 29, 2009

You will be interested to learn that the new breed of postal services are web-to-postal SaaS solutions.

By anon22460 — On Dec 04, 2008

this information was very helpful to me. thanks a lot.

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