For example, USPS awarded development contracts for first generation OCRs to Philco Corporation in 1960-65, and for second generation OCRs to IBM and Philco-Ford in 1968 and 1969, respectively. Both companies developed successful OCR designs and
were OCRs and time
subsequently were installed
awarded prototype contracts. in Boston in November 1971 and
The Philco-Ford second generation
successfully tested in early 1972;
IBM OCRs USPS had
were installed in New York in June 1972 settled on a postal automation strategy and
and tested solicited
in late 1972. By manufacturers
provide OCRs on a line OCR business Philco-Ford second the IBM OCR units
release-loan basis in 1979-80, the only companies left in the single-
were foreign manufacturers. generation OCR units in Boston in New York are still in service.
This was remained
despite the fact that operational until 1982,
Thus, it is at least arguable that USPS could have reasonably opted for wide deployment of single-line OCRs in the early 1970’s, perhaps using a 5-digit bar code (5- digit ZIP code use had reached 84 percent by 1972). Had USPS opted for this strategy, some U.S. manufacturers of single-line OCRs might well have stayed in the business. And it would be reasonable to expect that OCR technology would be further advanced than it is today.
On the positive side, USPS has established a good track record in narrowly focused R&D on improvements to upgrade existing equipment. For example, the multi-position letter-sorting machine (MPLSM), in wide use since the late 1960’s, has been upgraded several times, most recently by a not yet fully implemented electronic ZIP retrofit (known as EZR) that allows four-digit keying of ZIP+4 codes. Facer cancellers, single position letter sorting machines, and flat sorting machines also have been, or will be, upgraded. USPS equipment upgrades are highlighted in figure 3.