Universal Postal Union


Flag of the Universal Postal UnionThe Universal Postal Union (UPU) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that aims to organize and improve postal service throughout the world and to ensure international collaboration in this area. Among the principles governing its operation as set forth in the Universal Postal Convention and the General Regulations, two of the most important were the formation of a single territory by all signatory nations for the purposes of postal communication and uniformity of postal rates and units of weight. The original agreement adopted in 1875 applied only to letter mail; other postal services, such as parcel post and international money orders, have been regulated by supplementary agreements that are binding only on signing members.


The first attempt to agree upon general rules concerning the international postal service was in 1863, when United States Postmaster General Montgomery Blair called a conference in Paris. Delegates from 15 European and American countries met and succeeded in laying down a number of general principles for mutual agreements. But the scope of their decisions was limited and they were not able to settle on an international postal agreement.


This task was left to Heinrich von Stephan, a senior postal official from the North German Confederation. He drew up a plan for an international postal union, and at his suggestion, the Swiss Government convened an international conference in Bern on 15 September 1874. The conference was attended by representatives from 22 nations.


Signature of J.P. HofstedeOn 9 October of the same year - a day now celebrated throughout the world as World Post Day - the Treaty of Bern, establishing the General Postal Union, was signed. For the Netherlands the treaty was signed by J.P. Hofstede (general director of the Dutch Posterijen) and Coenraad Willem baron Sweerts de Landas Wijborgh (1820-1892, director of the Posterijen in Rotterdam).


The union actually came into effect on 1 July 1875. Membership in the Union grew so quickly during the following three years that its name was changed to the Universal Postal Union in 1878.


On 1 July 1947 the UPU became a specialized agency of the United Nations. At the moment the UPU has 191 member states. Out of 192 UN member states, 188 are UPU members. The situation of Andorra, Marshall Islands, Federates States of Micronesia and Palau is not yet settled. Two groups of territories are ranked as a member state: Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, and Overseas Territories of the United Kingdom. Vatican City is also a UPU member state.


UPU2-20 Some member states also represent their dependent territories and these territories are deemed to fall under UPU jurisdiction: Australia (Norfolk Island), China (Hong Kong, Macao), Denmark (Faroe Islands, Greenland), France (French Overseas Departments and French Polynesia, French Southern and Antarctic Territories, New Caledonia, Scattered Islands, Wallis and Futuna), New Zealand (Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau), United Kingdom (Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey), United States (Guam, Puerto Rico, Samoa, Virgin Islands of the United States of America, Northern Mariana Islands). The Northern Mariana Islands are still listed as Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Samoa is better known as American Samoa, to distinguish it from the neighbouring state of Samoa.


The Universal Postal Congress is the legislative body and meets every five years. The Executive Council, which consists of 40 representative countries elected by the congress, ensures the continuity of the work of the UPU and meets annually. The International Bureau is maintained at Bern and acts as a secretariat in carrying out the daily operations.


In 2007 the UPU emblem was changed by adding the two United Nations olive branches around the globe and figures.


Since 1957 special stamps are issued by Switzerland for use on mail from the UPU Headquarters in Bern. These stamps can be found in the stamp catalogue.





The official UPU website.

Flag of the UPU in Flags of the World.

Universal Postal Union in Wikipedia.

An extensive article on the UPU Constitution, Congress decisions and UPU history.

Text of the treaty of the General Postal Union, signed 9 October 1874.

An article on the UPU statue and its maker, the French sculptor René de Saint-Marceau.



Related subjects


Paris Postal Conference


Membership of the Universal Postal Union


UPU 50th anniversary

UPU 75th anniversary

UPU Centenary

UPU 120th anniversary

UPU 125th anniversary


2nd UPU Congress, Paris

15th UPU Congress, Vienna

19th UPU Congress, Hamburg/Salon der Philatelie zum XIX. Weltpostkongress, Hamburg

20th UPU Congress, Washington DC/World Stamp Expo 89, Washington DC

21st UPU Congress, Seoul/Philakorea 1994, Seoul

22nd UPU Congress, Beijing/China 1999, Beijing


Consultative Committee for Postal Studies

Inauguration of UPU Headquarters, Berne

International Letter Writing Week

UPU Administrative Conference on Air Mail, The Hague

World Post Day



Philexafrique II



Related persons


Krains, Hubert

Stephan, Heinrich von

Struyf, Edmond



Catalogue - general issues


Belgium                                                             17 April 1958



Catalogue - UPU emblem


Netherlands Antilles                                            26 May 2006

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics                        22 December 1988

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics                        25 December 1989



Catalogue - 120th anniversary


Slovakia                                                            1 August 1994









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last revised: 1 September 2010