Overnight Mail

FedEx is the first overnight mail delivery service. At the time, the idea was widely derided. Before FedEx, the only way to reliably deliver a package quickly was via overnight courier, an extremely expensive option.

In 1965, Yale undergrad student Fred Smith wrote a paper describing the idea as an undergraduate in Yale. Smith reasoned that rapid package transport required different air routes and systems than transporting people. Despite urban legend, his professor did not fail the paper or describe it as unworkable.

In August 1971, Smith purchased tiny Arkansas Aviation. Eventually, on April 17, 1973, he renamed it Federal Express. The initial system was a 25-city network. The first day there were 389 employees delivering 186 packages.

Growth was phenomenal: FedEx grew 40-percent per year.

“You’re not delivering sand and gravel,” he tells his ubiquitous couriers. “You’re delivering someone’s pacemaker, chemotherapy treatment for cancer drugs, the part that keeps the F-18s flying, or the legal brief that decides the case.” (Evans)

FedEx remains as important as ever, though customers have become accustomed to rapid package delivery from a multitude of vendors.