The idea of a franking machine first occurred to co-founder Arthur H. Pitney in 1901. He was disturbed by the ease with which the office boys could steal the company’s stamps, so he applied his inventive mind to devising a machine which would combat petty pilfering.

Pitney engaged the services of a mechanical engineer, Eugene a. Rummler, to put his ideas into practice and a company, the Pitney Postal Machine Company was formed in 1902.

Pitney’s first franking machine made little headway at first with the US Post Office Department until 1903 when Rummler was permitted to demonstrate the machine in the headquarters of the US Post Office Department in Washington, D.C. The results of the first tests were sufficiently encouraging and a machine was installed in the office of the Third Assistant Postmaster General on 24th November 1903.

Discussions on the introduction of a general postage meter system were halted by the outbreak of the First World War. Nevertheless Pitney kept pressing his case. Finally in October 1919, Pitney met his future partner, Walter Bowes.

Born in Bradford in 1882, Walter Harold Bowes emigrated to the United States in 1893 and settled in Boston.

Through his friendship with the Maxim brothers, inventors of smokeless gunpowder and the machine-gun, Bowes met George H. Graham, the inventor of a high-speed cheque endorsing machine. The Universal Stamping Machine Company was formed in 1908 to market Graham’s machine and the following year Bowes joined the company as a salesperson.

Graham and Bowes worked on the idea of a stamp-cancelling machine. After a series of tests in Washington the first Universal cancelling machines were accepted by the U.S. Post Office in 1910. Having put the company on a sound financial basis, Bowes travelled to Europe in 1911 and sold cancelling machines to the postal administrations of Britain and Germany.

The following year Bowes heard of the Pitney trials with permit franking machines and promptly turned his attentions to the problem of dispensing with adhesive stamps altogether.

In the autumn of 1912 he wrote to the Third Assistant Postmaster General expressing interest in the Pitney Trials. Bowes proposed that the existing Universal stamp-cancelling machines could be adapted for permit mailing. Both men soon realised the advantages which would accrue from pooling their resources.

The Universal Postal Union Congress sanctioned the use of postage meters for use on 1st class mail on 28th April 1920. Five days earlier the Pitney Bowes Postage Meter Company was formed and subsequently the first franking machine – the model A was produced.

The first Pitney Bowes Model A franking machine was approved by the U.S. Post Office Department on 1st September 1920 and brought into use the following December.

For more than a decade the Universal Stamping Machine Company (Bowes’s original firm) had been supplying cancelling machines to the British Post Office and had developed an excellent relationship. The British officials were also impressed by the postage meter and had verified its reliability in the United States. Accordingly sanction was given to Pitney Bowes for their postage meter machines. The historic date was 17th May 1922, henceforth regarded as the birthday of postage meters in Britain. On the 5th September the first franking machine came into operation in the office of the Prudential Assurance Company in Holborn, London.

Now celebrating its 90th year of innovation, Pitney Bowes provides software, hardware and services that integrate physical and digital communications channels. Long known for making its customers more productive, Pitney Bowes is increasingly helping other companies grow their business. Pitney Bowes is a $5.6 billion company and employs 33,000 worldwide. Pitney Bowes: Every connection is a new opportunity™. www.pitneybowes.co.uk.

Source: The history of Pitney Bowes Limited. – Copyright © 1975 by S. T Roberts.

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