J.W. Westcott Company: Pioneering Detroit’s River Mail Delivery

For over a century, the J.W. Westcott Company has faithfully served as the world’s only floating zip code. A unique facet of Detroit’s history and maritime landscape, the company plays an essential role in the delivery of mail and supplies to ships traveling along the Detroit River.

A Glimpse into the Past

The J.W. Westcott Company has been a cornerstone of the maritime industry in Detroit since 1874. It was founded by Captain J.W. Westcott, who started his career as a deckhand and worked his way up to become a ship’s master. He recognized the need for a reliable service to deliver essential goods and mail to ships without requiring them to halt their journeys.

Captain Westcott first started with a rowboat to deliver his services, battling the harsh elements of the Detroit River. Over the years, his entrepreneurial venture evolved, with the Westcott family investing in larger vessels to accommodate the increasing demand for their services.

Mail by the Pail

In the early days, delivering mail and parcels to moving ships posed a unique set of challenges. This led to the inception of the ‘mail-in-the-pail’ system, a method still used today. In this system, a pail is lowered from the ship on a rope. The Westcott vessel, skillfully maneuvered, positions itself such that the delivery can be dropped or placed into the pail and hoisted back aboard the ship.

The World’s Only Floating ZIP Code

In 1948, the J.W. Westcott Company made history when it was assigned its own unique zip code, 48222, by the United States Postal Service. This designation made it the world’s only floating post office, a title it holds to this day. The zip code, 48222, is exclusively associated with the company’s vessels, primarily the J.W. Westcott II, which operates most of the mail and supply deliveries.

Diverse Services

While mail delivery remains a significant part of the J.W. Westcott Company’s services, it is not limited to it. Over the years, the company expanded its services to include the delivery of crew changes, provisions, ship parts, and supplies. It also provides pilot boat services, assisting pilots in navigating the Detroit River’s bustling shipping channels.

Vessels of Service

The company operates two primary vessels: the J.W. Westcott II and the Joseph J. Hogan. The J.W. Westcott II, launched in 1955, is a 45-foot steel-hulled vessel designed explicitly for mail delivery. It can travel at a speed of 15 knots and carry up to 400 pounds of mail.

The Joseph J. Hogan, on the other hand, is used primarily for pilotage services. Named after a long-time Detroit river pilot, this vessel was built and launched in 1961.

Recognition and Legacy

In 2001, the J.W. Westcott Company’s unique nature and historical significance were recognized when it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The legacy of the J.W. Westcott Company extends beyond its postal duties. Its presence is a symbol of Detroit’s rich maritime history, a living testament to the ingenuity and determination of Captain J.W. Westcott. With its extraordinary service and dedication, the company has become an inseparable part of the city’s heritage, securing its place in Detroit’s — and indeed, America’s — heart.

Today, the company, still family-owned and operated, continues to navigate the Detroit River’s challenging waters, providing an essential service to the ships that traverse its channels. With over 150 years of history behind it, the J.W. Westcott Company remains a fascinating and unique fixture in the ever-evolving landscape of mail delivery and maritime services.

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