Coltivare la memoria è un dovere: 160 anni di Poste, l’identità del Paese

It is important to celebrate anniversaries, for various reasons that we will go on to explain. It is so important, in fact, that an Italian authority was established at 51, Via della Ferratella in Laterano, Rome, tasked with promotion of national anniversaries and participation of new generations. This is under the guidance of the Prime Minister’s Office, reporting to the Minister for Youth Policy, with the task of keeping our history alive. And it is not a trivial task in a country which still has a fragile identity in many respects. In the decree establishing the authority, we are reminded that history is a collective cultural heritage that must be passed on, especially to young people. Cultivating history means strengthening identity and fostering cohesion. Celebrating an anniversary allows us to reflect on the path travelled, preparing as best we can for what is ahead.

Parallel stories

Poste Italiane has passed the 160-year milestone and looking back, we can see that its history is entwined with the country’s history. It all began with Law 604 of 5 May 1862, which established the “Regie Poste”, combining the various operators of the pre-unification states. Barely a year had passed since the birth of the Kingdom of Italy, and the launch of a common postal service was confirmation that a new nation was being formed. This unifying vocation of the Italian postal authority would characterise its entire history. Even today, bridging the divide between North and South is also supported by the postal network: from online services to counters that remain open in small municipalities in rural areas, based on a logic of social inclusion rather than commercial gain.

Unifying the country

That founding act also required a great deal of innovation. It was necessary to harmonise telegraphs, salaries, uniforms, staff roles, regulations and tariffs for the different services. This was not an easy task. The logistics that had to be managed back then were the roads and sea routes travelled by horses, stagecoaches and steamships. But the ability to innovate by optimising resources and tools has been maintained over time.

The birth of savings

The Regie Poste came into being a few months before Victor Emmanuel II signed the law unifying the monetary system, with the Lira becoming the official currency of Italy. A few years later, in 1876, postal savings accounts were launched, allowing Italians to protect and grow their savings. It was an overwhelming success, with 57,000 accounts activated in 1876, 4,300,000 in 1901, and reaching around 6 million in 1912. 1925 was the year of introduction of Interest-Bearing Postal Certificates, alongside savings accounts. The amounts paid in again exceeded all expectations. There were benefits for savers and for the state, which could finance the construction of public works: roads, railways, telegraph and telephone networks, as well as schools, offices and hospitals. And this continues to happen today, albeit in a different scenario and with different instruments. 

Collective trust

In the following pages, Ferruccio de Bortoli emphasises how gathering and managing the savings of Italian citizens, including the poorest, is a great responsibility. And Poste Italiane can meet this responsibility on the basis of collective trust. In 1874, the first postcard was put on the market. You could write a few lines of text and communicate essential news at a reduced rate. You spent less for a postcard than for a letter because you renounced your privacy. This is not so dissimilar from our emails today. The difference lies in the fact that the Italian postal service was (and still is) far more discreet than Google.

From parcels to Turati

The parcel post service was launched in 1881. Initially, parcels could only be picked up at the post office, but after the early days, home delivery was introduced, again almost a century prior to the modern age of deliveries. Before the 19th century came to a close, Italians also became familiar with the postmark, the postcard, postal money orders, and express and urgent express services. Significant milestones in the history of the Italian Postal Service include, on 11 February 1902, the birth of the Italian Postal and Telegraphic Federation, a workers’ organisation chaired by socialist leader Filippo Turati. Speaking in the Chamber of Deputies, Turati explained that “the old Federation of Postal Personnel had expanded to include the Telegraph staff and had called me, unworthily, to chair it. I was given the idea of defending the rights of an army of 30 or 40,000 workers and of helping to instil the postal and telegraph staff with those same ideas of temperance that I tried to bring to the labour movement”.

Pieces of the same puzzle 

During the Great War, postcards, letters and parcels served to keep soldiers at the front in touch with their families. Pietro Calamandrei, who went on to become a key political figure in the history of Italy, recounting his experience in the Great War, said that “post is the greatest gift that the fatherland can give to soldiers”. Over these 160 years, postage stamps have provided us with an illustrated history of our country. They have marked all great turning points: the rise of fascism, the Liberation, the birth of the Republic and the Constitution. But they also gave a glimpse into sometimes minor yet always significant places, figures and events. They are like the many pieces of a puzzle that ultimately gives us an idea of how we became who we are.