Addresses, complete with zip codes, were invented in the Ukraine 80 years ago. Now you know. The idea was to represent geographic areas with letters and numbers to make mail distribution more efficient. Or as the Israel Postal Company explains on its website, "A postal code is a number that is an inseparable part of an address that helps route mail to its destination."
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Now, China has 1.34 billion inhabitants living in an area 9.7 million square kilometers in size. It uses a 6-digit postal system.
The United States, with 315 million inhabitants and 9.8 million square kilometers of territory, uses five (in 1983 another four digits were added, but they remain optional).
Germany, with 81 million people and an area of 357,000 square kilometers, upgraded from four to five digits in 1990. Switzerland, with its 8 million inhabitants and 41,000 square kilometers, still gets by with just four digits.
Israel, with slightly fewer than 8 million citizens on 22,000 square kilometers, has decided to shift from a 5-digit postal code to a new 7-digit system starting in 2013, in a move approved by Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon. The switch means that Israel will now have 10 million possible unique postal codes – two million more than Israel's entire population - as compared to the almost 100,000 possible addresses under the five-digit system.
Moreover, to receive bulk mailing discounts, organizations will need to print envelopes with 16 digits, seven digits for the new postal codes and another nine digits for the distribution code. That means there will be a billion different possible postal codes for bulk mailers starting in 2013. Now you know that too.
Why is Israel Post switching to seven digits? In order to ensure efficient mail delivery, it said, when asked.
"In order to adapt mail distribution to the urban development in Israel in recent yearsIsrael Post has decided to update its distribution method by adding two digits to home addresses," the government company stated. "With the new method, the vast majority of mail items will be sorted in a mechanized and computerized fashion with the goal of increasing the efficiency, reliability and precision of mail delivery."
But why stop there? An interesting postal code proposal comes from Haaretz reader Israel Zeierman.
"It's possible to assign a postal code to every resident to ensure complete differentiation," Zeierman wrote us. "It would be possible to assign a postal code for individuals based on their national identification numbers and for businesses using their company identification numbers. Doing so would mean less numbers to remember and soon it will be possible to identity the exact location of every person through their smartphones to enable direct, in-person delivery. That would be an improvement!"