U.P.U. centenaryU.P.U. centenary

  • Issue: October 1974
  • Designer: A. Glaser / D. Pessah / S. Ketter
  • Stamp size: IL 0.25 25.7 x 40 mm / IL 1.30 30.8 x 30.8 mm
  • Plate no.: 420 - 421
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: IL 0.25 Photolithography ; IL 1.30 Photogravure

In the first half of the nineteenth century almost all the enlightened nations were operating domestic, well-functioning postal systems. But mainly as a result of the political division in Europe some cumbersome stumbling blocks were hampering the rapid distribution of letters and parcels on an international level.

Though the citizens were beginning to enjoy uniform and relatively cheap postal tariffs, the new arrangements were in most cases limited to the respective countries, until both in Europe and America some administrators came up with the idea of an international convention, which should regulate the mailing and delivery of postal items between countries, Upon the initiative of the United States of America an international conference met in Paris in 1863, formulating 31 paragraphs for the proposed convention, but due to the political upheavals in America and Europe their implementation was put off. In spite of this the interest in setting up an international postal organisation never died down, mainly thanks to the positive example set by the properly functioning postal union between Austria and the German states in the sixties of the past century.

Subsequently, through the initiative and efforts of Heinrich von Stephan, the Director General of the German Postal Services, a constituent assembly met in Berne, Switzerland, in September 1874. The delegates of the 22 participating nations formulated the first international postal convention, by which all the member states undertook to deal with mail on a mutual basis The activities of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) officially started on July 1, 1875, the number of member states increasing year after year. At present it has reached a strength of 150 postal administrations collaborating within its frame-work. Since 1948 the Union has been granted the status of a "special agency" of the United Nations Organisation (UNO). With headquarters in Berne, its highest authority is the World Postal Congress, meeting once in five years. The Congress elects the Executive Council, comprising 31 delegates from an equal number of countries, geographically divided into five regions.

Israel joined this world embracing organisation, serving an even larger number of people than the populations of all the UN member states, on December 24, 1949, shortly before the end of the 75th anniversary of the Union. But Israel was granted almost all the rights of member states even before its final admission by a two-thirds majority, the Union officials extending the young state every possible assistance. The friendly relations with the Union began as early as 1948, on the occasion of a visit to Switzerland by the meanwhile deceased Minister of Transport and Communications David Remez, accompanied by Zwi Prihar, the first Director-General of the Israel Post.

The centenary of the Universal Postal Union is a fitting occasion to mention the contribution of one of its almost forgotten Jewish initiators. It is true indeed, that Heinrich von Stephan, the initiator of the Berne constituent assembly, never claimed for himself the exclusive "privilege of promotion", saying: "The idea was hanging in the air."

But as early as 1859 a Danish post-office clerk by the name of Joseph Michelsen had already proposed to stop the raising of transit dues for mail between European countries and to introduce uniform international tariffs instead. Indeed, his proposal was officially published in a brochure distributed by the Danish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.

Michelsen, born in 1826 in the small town of Nestwood as the son of a poor Jewish shopkeeper, died in 1908, after having won high public esteem. Though not having participated in the Berne conference in an official capacity, he was in town during the deliberations, lobbying for the idea of putting an end to the confusion and disorder in the international postal system.

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U.P.U. centenary