What is a Franking Machine?

The first franking machine was created in 1884 by Engle Frankmussler, a Norwegian who was keen to solve the problem of security in the long established postal system.

The delivery of post was often hit and miss throughout Europe and America, with letters and parcels being misplaced or mangled en route. A major obstacle was payment of letters; this was often erratic, making the postmaster’s job frustrating. The entire system was weighed down by lack of speed and lack of cohesion.

The main idea of the franking machine was to find a solution of how to reliably pay for post. Frankmussler’s invention was called the Postage Stamp Affixing Machine and made its first appearance at the World Fair in Germany.

In Chicago, Arthur Pitney was also working on his invention of a similar product. This was the Pitney Post Machine, invented in 1902 when Pitney obtained a patent for it. His company went on to become the American Postage Metre Company and by then there were other competitors who had realised the value of ideas such as post machines.

The early machines were operated manually, with the use of a crank and dyes for printing on the paper. The main disadvantage to them was that they could be tampered with quite easily (the weight of the parcel, the price of postage, etc) and were problematic for this reason.

Over the years there have been many improvements to the franking machine; it has evolved into a modern day digital machine that has become synonymous with the day to day function of both small and large businesses worldwide. The early tampering problem has been rectified through the digital age.

Franking machines are a way of pre-paying for postage by keeping in contact with the Royal Mail through electronic communication. Each machine has a business account that allows company owners to pay for their postage without the need to drive or walk to the post office, or to keep a supply of stamps handy.

The franking machine user sets the correct date, digitally, and inserts the sealed envelope. This is franked with the correct postage and also displays the company’s unique name and impression. Inkjet is used for this printing process.

The machines now suit all business needs. They can be purchased in different sizes, from small models that have a basic function and will frank a moderate number of letters each day (suitable for small businesses), to larger and more sophisticated machines which are capable of sending hundred of letters and parcels every day.

Support is offered by Royal Mail, including useful advice on how to operate and run your machine, to information about postage discounts for bulk use.

Online companies such as EBay use a service by Pitney Bowes for printing labels for posting on their users’ parcels, and this is a clear illustration of how far the idea of franking has progressed over the years, moving to meet the needs of the digital age.

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