Robert Aurand Moon (April 15, 1917, Williamsport, Pennsylvania, USA – April 11, 2001, Leesburg, Florida, USA), sometimes called “Mr. ZIP”, is considered the father of the ZIP Code or Zone Improvement Plan, a mechanism to route mail in the United States. He developed the idea in the 1940s while working as a postal inspector in Philadelphia, although his system used only the first three digits of what became a five-digit, and later a nine-digit, system. The first Directory of Post Offices using five-digit ZIP code numbers was published in 1963.
Born in Williamsport, Pa.; His mother died when he was young, and his father, a grocer, went bankrupt in the Depression, Mrs. Moon said. He won a scholarship to Duke University, but could not find a job in Raleigh, N.C. The university suggested he get a job at the post office and transfer to an office near Duke. He began at his hometown post office, where he carried mail and worked as a clerk, among other tasks. When he took the exam for postal inspector, his score was so high that he got the job, even though one of the requirements was a college degree, which he never earned.
He was assigned to the Chicago region, but became homesick and got a transfer to Philadelphia. Outside of the postal service, Robert Moon was a Mason and volunteered for Meals on Wheels in Orange County, the Zellwood Methodist Church in Zellwood and Florida Hospital Waterman in Eustis.
Moon originally invented a three-digit code system that he believed was necessary for the post office to keep up with the mail volume after WWII. This system was later expanded into the ZIP Code system put into use in 1963. Moon’s numerical system was designed from the outset for mechanical sorting . He made his first proposal for a new coding system because of his belief that the existing rail-based system would no longer be adequate for huge new volumes of mail. He believed the future was in airplanes and became an enthusiastic amateur pilot.
That elementary system, a three-digit code that referred to the general region of the country that the mail was bound for, was later supplemented with a final two digits, which designated a smaller delivery area. The postal service credits Moon with creating the first three digits and says the final two digits were added by other postal workers.
In any case, the five-digit ZIP (for Zoning Improvement Plan) Codes first appeared in postal directories on July 1, 1963. When the ZIP Code system was first introduced to the public in 1963, the post office had a hard time convincing millions of letter writers to add the unfamiliar extra numbers to each address. Robert Moon retired in 1965, only to return five years later to Washington, D.C., as director of delivery services.
The Zoning Improvement Plan, as ZIP was more prosaically known, represented an irreversible step in the seeming ascendancy of numbers over letters, arriving about the same time the telephone company was switching to seven-digit numbers from letter exchanges like BUtterfield 8.
But ZIP codes made the mail zip at a time when old delivery systems were breaking down. Planes carried far more mail than trains, on which leisurely sorting on mail cars took place, and the volume of business mail was ballooning. Also, the mail was going through increasingly mechanized regional centers, rather than city to city, ruling out old-fashioned hand sorting by city and state and neighborhood. The Postal Service, then the cabinet-level Post Office Department, needed a national code to make sorting as fast as possible.