How Much Does It Cost To Mail a Letter?

How Much Does It Cost To Mail a Letter?
Pat Nixon: Law, Politics and Govt

Skill: Elementary School
Time Required: One class period


While Pat Nixon was in the White House, the cost of a first class postage stamp "jumped" from five to six cents!  In 2006 it "jumped" to 39 cents!  What happened? Let's find out!


Students who participate in this activity will learn about the way in which the cost of postage is determined, and its history over time.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet; the "Stamps" link on the First Ladies Timeline.


1.  Begin the lesson by asking students what they know about stamps--do they collect stamps?  Do they buy stamps? What is the purpose of a stamp?

2.  Explain that, in the beginning, the cost of mailing a letter was based on the number of sheets in the letter and the distance it was traveling. Beginning in 1863, however, postage rates became based solely on weight.

3.  Access the Postal Rate Commission site listed below to find out what the cost of a first-class stamp was from 1885 to the present. Notice the large increase in the past few years.

4.  Have students look at the First Ladies Library Timeline and try to figure out why the price has gone so high.  Hint:  competition from other carriers and from e-mail!

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by having students look at other parts of the United States Postal Service website--  There is a considerable amount of U.S. history associated with the Post Office! 

Sources & Resources:


             Postal Regulatory Commission

     (Select Postal Rates and Fees, then History of Rates and First Class Stamp Rates)


This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.