The letter yesterday and today
One of the earliest letter cultures emerged in ancient Egypt: as early as the 3rd millennium BC, the Egyptians were making and inscribing papyrus scrolls to send messages. And there were also already “mail carriers”, who transported the inscribed papyrus scrolls on foot or – for long distances – by ship on the Nile. The ancient Babylonians also used an early form of the letter, sending clay tablets on which they had impressed their cuneiform messages.
One of the first state postal systems was by introduced Julius Caesar in ancient Rome. Like the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Romans were wont to transport their letters by ship, while shorter journeys were made on horseback. Eventually, as trade increased in the Middle Ages, journeymen were commissioned to transport cross-border mail, taking their messages from A to B with horse and wagon.
From the 18th century onwards, as literacy became widespread, the letter finally became a means of communication for everyone. About two centuries later, in 1974, the introduction of the fax machine was a true revolution, surpassed only by the invention of e-mail. What has never changed is the purpose of a letter: today, as in the past, its purpose is to deliver a message, whether for official or personal ends.
How many letters are sent nowadays? In 2017, Swiss Post delivered 2.2 billions addressed letters – even though e-mail and WhatsApp are increasingly gaining ground. This shows that, despite recent developments, the letter as a friendly, personal means of communication that evokes a sense of joy is still indispensable to society.