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To analyze and describe the permanently valuable records of the Federal Government preserved in the National Archives Building is one of the main tasks of the National Archives, Various kinds of finding aids are needed to facilitate the use of these records, and the first step in the records-description program is the compilation of preliminary inventories of the material in some 300 record groups to which the holdings of the National Archives are allocated.
These inventories are called "preliminary" because they are provisional in character. They are prepared as soon as possible after the records are received without waiting to screen out all disposable material or to perfect the arrangement of the records, They are compiled primarily for internal use, both as finding aids to help the staff render efficient reference service and as a means of establishing administrative control over the records.
Each preliminary inventory contains an introduction that briefly states the history and functions of the agency that accumulated the records. The records themselves are described series by series, that is, by units of records of the same form or that deal with the same subject or activity or that are arranged serially. Other significant information about the records may sometimes be given in appendixes,
When the record group has been studied sufficiently and the records have been placed in final order, the preliminary inventories will be revised and the word "preliminary" dropped from the title of the revision. Meanwhile, as occasion demands and time permits, special reports, indexes, calendars, and other finding aids to the record group will be prepared.
Several finding aids that give an overall picture of materials in the National Archives have been published. A comprehensive Guide to the Records in the National Archives (1948) and a brief guide, Your Government's Records in the National Archives (revised 1950), have been issued. Forty-four Reference Information Papers, which analyze records in the National Archives on such subjects as transportation, small business, and the Middle East, have so far been issued, Records of World War I have been described in the Handbook of Federal World War Agencies and Their Records, 1917-1921, and those of World War II in the two-volume guide, Federal Records of World War II (1950-51). Many bodies of records of high research value have been edited by the National Archives and reproduced on microfilm as a form of publication. Positive prints of some 9,000 rolls of this microfilm, most of which are described in the List of National Archives Microfilm Publications (1953), are now available for purchase.
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3 Records of the Bureau of the Third Assistant Postnaster
6 Records of the Division of Parcel Post
7 Records of the Bureau of the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General
7 Records of the Immediate Office of the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General
8 Records of the Division of Topography
8 Records of the Division of Motor Vehicle Service
12 Records of the Pneumatic-Tube Service
. 13 Records of the Division of Post Office Quarters
14 Records of the Division of Equipment and Supplies
15 Records of the Division of Rural Nails
16 Records of the Bureau of Accounts
18 Records of the Bureau of the Chief Inspector
19 Appendixes: I. Numerical classification scheme for the general records of
the Office of the Fourth Assistant Postmaster
23 II. Special list of post-route maps . III. List of post-route maps by State, Territory, or possession
34 IV. List of manuscript post-route maps V. Numerical classification scheme for the general records of the Division of Rural Mails
• • 30
The Continental Congress established a national postal system on July 26, 1775, and selected Benjamin Franklin to serve as its first Postmaster General. The system was known as the General Post Office until the early 1820's, after which it was usually referred to as the post office Department although departmental status was not officially conferred until the passage of the organic act of June 8, 1872.
The Postmaster General was assisted at various times by Assistant Postmasters General, who were responsible for specified functions. By 1891 this functional organization had developed into four bureaus, each supervised by an Assistant Postmastor General. The Bureau of Accounts, established in 1921, and the Bureau of the Chief Inspector, established in 1939, completed the pattern of bureau organization that survived until the Department was reorganized on August 20, 1949, in accordance with the President's Reorganization Plan No. 3.
The records described in this inventory are a part of Record Group 28, Records of the Post Office Department, and amount to 737 cubic feet. They consist of all the records of the Bureaus of the Third and Fourth Assistant Postmasters General, the Bureau of Accounts, and the Bureau of the Chief Inspector that were in the National Archives on April 1, 1959. The records of the Office of the Postmaster General are described in Preliminary Inventory No. 99 and the records of the Bureaus of the First and Second Assistant Postmasters General are described in Preliminary Inventories Nos. 36 and 82, respectively.
The relatively small volume of extant records of the four bureaus covered by this inventory is accounted for by the fact that the Post Office Department has taken advantage of an act of 1881 (21 Stat. 412) and later acts, which provide for the disposition of useless papers by executive departments. The Department has disposed of nearly all of the administrative, supervisory, and operating records of the four bureaus, with the exception of those now in the National Archives and the current records retained by the Department. The tondency has been to retain records in summary form, to dispose of detailed records regarding individual post offices, and to publish detailed rules for the conduct of all post offices and their personnel in the Postal Manual (formerly in the Postal Guide), the Postal Bulletin, and the Postal Laws and Regulations. Some of the series described in this inventory are being preserved to illustrate the management techniques of the Department, for example entries 6, 43, 46, and 53.
The descriptions of the records of the four bureaus were prepared by Arthur Hecht and Fred W. Warriner, Jr., of the Industrial Records Division, National Archives, with the exception of entries 24 through 32 and related appendixes II, III, and IV, which were prepared by Charlotte M. Ashby of the Cartographic Records Division, National Archives.