ZIP Code

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Mr. ZIP promotes the use of ZIP codes for the USPS.

A ZIP Code is the postal code used by the United States Postal Service, which always writes it with capital letters. ZIP is an acronym for the Zoning Improvement Plan, but was also cleverly meant to suggest that mail travels more efficiently (and therefore faster) when senders use it. The basic ZIP Code format consists of five numerical digits. An extended ZIP+4 code includes the five digits of the ZIP Code plus four digits which allow a piece of mail to be delivered to a specific address. ZIP Code was originally registered as a trademark by the U.S. Postal Service, but its registration has since expired.



The postal service implemented postal zones for large cities in 1943. For example:

John Smith
3256 Epiphenomenal Avenue
Minneapolis 16, Minnesota

The "16" is the number of the postal zone within the city.


By the early 1960s a more general system was needed, and on July 1, 1963, non-mandatory ZIP Codes were announced for the whole country. Robert Moon, an employee of the post office, is considered the father of the ZIP Code. He first submitted his proposal in 1944 while working as a postal inspector. The post office only gives credit to Moon for the first 3 digits of the ZIP Code, which describe the region of the country.

In most cases, the last two digits of the ZIP Code coincide with the older postal zone number, thus:

John Smith
3256 Epiphenomenal Avenue
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55416

In 1967, these were made mandatory for second- and third-class bulk mailers and the system was soon adopted generally. The United States Post Office used a cartoon character, Mr. ZIP, to promote use of the ZIP Code in the 1970s.

Postal abbreviations

In addition, two-letter abbreviations were introduced for states, eliminating the need to write the state's name out in full. For example, California is CA. Abbreviations are also assigned for U.S. territories like Puerto Rico (PR) and American Samoa (AS), as well as for several former U.S. Trust Territories in the Pacific, such as the Federated States of Micronesia (FM), which are now separate countries.

Similarly, US military addresses also have their own abbreviations. Mail to these addresses is sent to the Army (or Airforce) Post Office (APO) or Fleet Post Office (FPO). This may also be used for mail to many US diplomatic missions overseas.


In 1983, the US Postal Service began using an expanded ZIP Code system called "ZIP+4", which are often called "plus-four codes" or "add-on codes." A ZIP+4 code uses the basic 5-digit ZIP plus an additional 4-digits to identify a geographic segment within the 5-digit delivery area, such as a city block or a group of apartments or an individual high-volume receiver of mail, or any other unit that could use an extra identifier to aid in efficient mail sorting and delivery. Use of the plus-four code is not required, but it helps the Postal Service direct mail more efficiently and accurately. By decreasing handling and in turn, the potential for misdelivery, the plus-four code also lowers delivery cost.

For Post Office boxes, the general (but not invariable) rule is that each box has its own ZIP+4 code. The add-on code is often either the last four digits of the box number or 0 plus the last three digits of the box number. However, there is no uniform rule, so the ZIP+4 code must be looked up individually for each box.

It is common to use add-on code 9998 for mail addressed to the postmaster, 9999 for general delivery, and other high-numbered add-on codes for business reply mail and requests for special cancellation of stamps. For a unique ZIP code (explained below), the add-on code is typically 0001.

Postal bar code

The ZIP Code is often translated into a barcode called POSTNET, that is printed on the mailpiece as well, to make it easier for automated machines to sort the mail. Unlike most barcode symbologies, POSTNET uses long and short bars, not thin and thick bars. The barcode can be printed by the person who sends the mail, or the post office will put one on when they receive it. If the post office does it, they either have a machine OCR it, or have a human read the address if absolutely necessary. (The automated machinery has the unfortunate tendency to paste the coding over the bottom half-inch of postcards, often obliterating the signature.)

People who send bulk mail can get a discount on postage if they have pre-printed the barcode themselves. This requires only a simple and often free font, and the knowledge of at least the main 5-digit code, if all 9 are not available. An additional two digits are usually used to indicate the exact delivery point, so that every single mailable point in the country has its own 11-digit number (at least in theory). These two digits are usually the last two of the street address or box number, though non-numeric points with names or letters are assigned DP numbers by the local post office. However, when house numbers differ only by a letter suffix, e.g., 120 and 120A, the delivery point may be the same. The last digit is always a check digit, which is obtained by adding up the 5-, 9-, or 11-digits, then subtracting the last digit of that result from 10. (Thus, the check digit for 10001-0001 00 would be 7, or 1+1+1=3 and 10−3=7.) The sender needs only to type something like /100010001007/ in the 12-point POSTNET font to create the code for printing.

Structure and allocation

By geography

ZIP Codes are numbered with the first digit representing a certain group of U.S. states, the second and third digits together representing a region in that group (or perhaps a large city), and the fourth and fifth digits representing more specific areas, such as small towns or regions of that city. The main town in a region (if applicable) often gets the first ZIP Codes for that region; afterwards, the numerical order often follows the alphabetical order.

Geographically, many of the lowest ZIP Codes are in the New England region, since these begin with '0'. Also in the '0' region are Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and APO/FPO military addresses for personnel stationed in Europe. Some low zip codes are: 00501 for Holtsville, New York (a unique ZIP code for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service center there); 00601 for Adjuntas, Puerto Rico; 01001 for Agawam, Massachusetts, and 01002 for Amherst, Massachusetts.

The numbers increase southward along the East Coast, such as 10036 (New York City), 20500 (Washington, DC), 30303 (Atlanta, Georgia), and 33130 (Miami, Florida). From there, the numbers begin increasing heading westward and northward. For example, 40202 is in Louisville, Kentucky, 50309 in Des Moines, Iowa, 60601 in Chicago, Illinois, 75201 in Dallas, Texas, 80202 in Denver, Colorado, 94111 in San Francisco, California, 98101 in Seattle, Washington, and 99950 in Ketchikan, Alaska.

Missing image
Map of ZIP code zones.
3-digit lists: 0-12-34-56-78-9

The first digit of the ZIP code is allocated as follows:

Other U.S. territories have codes starting with 9. However, with the expansion of ZIP codes, the assignment of the first digit to a group of states has broken down. For example, ZIP codes beginning with 0 and 1 are in use in New York; beginning with 2 and 5, in the District of Columbia; and beginning with 7 and 8, in Texas.

The next two digits represent the sectional center facility (sortation facility for a region) (e.g. 432xx = Columbus OH), and the fourth and fifth digits represents the area of the city (if in a metropolitan area), or a village/town (outside metro areas): 43209 (4=Ohio,32=Columbus,09=Bexley). When a sectional center facility's area crosses state lines, that facility is assigned separate three-digit prefixes for the states that it serves; thus, it is possible to identify the state associated with any ZIP code just by looking at the first three digits.

ZIP-code changes

Like area codes, ZIP Codes are sometimes divided and changed, especially when a rural area becomes suburban. Typically, the new ZIP codes become effective once announced, and a grace period (e.g., one year) is provided in which the new and old ZIP codes are used concurrently, so that postal patrons in the affected area can notify correspondents, order new stationery, etc.

Most significantly, in rapidly developing suburbs, it is sometimes necessary to open a new sectional center facility, which must then be allocated its own three-digit ZIP-code prefix or prefixes. Such allocation can be done in various ways. For example, when a new sectional center facility was opened at Dulles Airport in Virginia, the prefix 201 was allocated to that facility; therefore, for all post offices to be served by that sectional center facility, the ZIP code changed from an old code beginning with 220 or 221 to a new code or codes beginning with 201. However, when a new sectional center facility was opened to serve Montgomery County, Maryland, no new prefix was assigned. Instead, ZIP codes in the 207 and 208 ranges, which had previously been assigned alphabetically, were reshuffled so that 207xx ZIP codes in Montgomery County were changed to 208xx codes, while 208xx codes outside that county were changed to 207xx codes. Because Silver Spring (whose postal area includes Wheaton) has its own prefix, 209, there was no need to apply the reshuffling to Silver Spring; instead, all mail going to 209xx ZIP codes was simply rerouted to the new sectional center facility.

ZIP codes also change when postal boundaries are realigned. For example, at the same time at which the above-noted change in Montgomery County took place, and under pressure from then D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, the USPS realigned the postal boundary between the District of Columbia and Maryland to match the actual boundary. Previously, many inner suburbs, such as Bethesda and Takoma Park, had been in the Washington, D.C., postal area. As a result of the change, ZIP codes in Maryland beginning with 200 were changed to new ZIP codes beginning with 207, 208, or 209, depending on their location, and ZIP codes straddling the D.C.-Maryland line were split. For example, 20014 (Bethesda) became 20814, while the Maryland portion of 20012 (Takoma Park) became 20912.

By type (i.e., use)

There are three types of ZIP codes: unique (assigned to a single high-volume mailer), PO box only (used only for PO boxes at a given facility, not for any other type of delivery), and standard (all other ZIP codes). As examples of unique ZIP codes, certain governmental agencies, universities, businesses, or buildings that receive extremely high volumes of mail have their own unique ZIP Code, such as 81009 for the Federal Citizen Information Center (FCIC) of the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) [1] ( in Pueblo, Colorado, 21250 for University of Maryland Baltimore County, 30385 for BellSouth in Atlanta, and 10048 for the World Trade Center complex in New York, New York (until its destruction on September 11, 2001). The White House has its own secret ZIP Code, separate from the publicly-known 20500, for the President of the United States and his family to receive private mail. An example of a "PO box only" ZIP code is 22313, which is used for PO boxes at the main post office in Alexandria, Virginia. In the area surrounding that post office, home and business mail delivery addresses use ZIP code 22314, which is thus a standard ZIP code.

The above will be made clearer by examining the allocation of ZIP codes in Princeton, New Jersey:

  • 08540, standard (deliveries in most of the Princeton postal area)
  • 08541, unique (Educational Testing Service)
  • 08542, standard (deliveries in the central area of the borough of Princeton)
  • 08543, PO box only (PO boxes at the main post office)
  • 08544, unique (Princeton University)

Other uses

Delivery services other than the USPS, such as Federal Express, United Parcel Service, and DHL require a ZIP code for the optimal internal routing of a package. This spares customers from being required to use some other routing designator, such as the IATA code of the destination airport or railhead.

ZIP Codes are used not only for tracking of mail, but in gathering geographical statistics in the United States. The U.S. Census Bureau keeps track of the latitude and longitude of the center-point of each ZIP Code, a database which numerous other companies sell. The data are often used in direct mail campaigns in a process called ZIP Code marketing, developed by Martin Baier. ZIP-coded data is also used in analyzing geographic factors in risk, an insurance industry and banking practice pejoratively known as redlining.

Pop culture

  • Around the year 2000, National Geographic magazine instituted a regular feature focusing, each month, on one ZIP Code in the United States.
  • ZIP codes can take on a certain amount of cachet or become bywords: 90210 in Beverly Hills, California being probably the most famous example appears in the titles of two Beverly Hills-centric television shows: Beverly Hills, 90210 and Dr. 90210.

See also

U.S. Postal Service codes

Postal Codes in other countries

External links

it:Zip Code ja:ZIP (郵便番号)


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