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Voices of Polonia: John Gronouski Jr.

By Ted Rajchel

As postmaster general, Gronouski added the use of the zip code, instituted a vertically improved mail system of delivery, proposed to do away with airmail postage, and reclassified first class mail as a priority class.  Gronouski also served as United States Ambassador to Poland from 1965 through 1968.


Early Life

Gronouski was born in Dunbar, Wisconsin, the son of Mary (Riley) and John Austin Gronouski. He was of Polish and Irish descent. He attended St. Peter’s School in Oshkosh, Wisconsin and then studied at Oshkosh Teachers College, receiving a B.A. Degree in 1942 from the University of Wisconsin. After graduation, he joined the Army Air Corps and served as a navigator with the Eighth Air Force. 

Gronouski was discharged in October, 1945, returning to school to earn his M.A. from the University of Wisconsin in 1947.  He took various lecturing and research positions from 1948 to 1953.  In 1955 Gronouski earned his PhD. from the University of Wisconsin, and continued to teach and conduct research until 1959, when he was appointed research director of the Wisconsin Department of Taxation.  

Gronouski married the former Mary Louise Metz on January 24, 1948.  They had two daughters: Stacy Ann Jennings and Julia Kay Glieberman. 

Run for the United States Senate

In 1952 he ran for the United States Senate against Joseph McCarthy, who won reelection. In 1959 Gronouski joined the Wisconsin Department of Revenue and was named the Executive Director of the Revenue Survey Commission.  In 1960 he became the Wisconsin State Commissioner of Taxation and  supported John F. Kennedy for president.

Appointed Postmaster General

In 1963 Gronouski was appointed Postmaster General by President John F. Kennedy. This office is a very old and a very honored establishment of our Executive Branch of the government.  Presidents since George Washington have all shown an uncommon interest in their postmasters general and so have their congresses. It was back in 1827 when a member of Congress explained why the postmaster general is so important. To quote him General Gronouski said, “His functions are as delicate and important as those of any other office of the government and his patronage probably greater.”  

Times have changed considerably since then.  Our post office department is in the hands today of very dedicated, devoted, and efficient career employees, who handle more mail each year than all of the rest of the postal systems in all the rest of the world.  The annual volume of mail has reached 72 billion pieces.  In other words, our post office delivers the equivalent of one letter every day, 365 days a year to every man, woman, and child in all the United States.  

Managing and directing this vast operation is one of the most important challenges in the Federal Government.  “I believe and I think the Congress concurs, that this demanding job is being filled now by one of the most outstanding postmasters general of the modern era,” said President John F. Kennedy. 

In the spirit of the first Postmaster General, Benjamin Franklin, President Kennedy said, “I shall never seek, never refuse, nor never resign an office. I am very pleased that General Gronouski, his entire very fine management team, and his outstanding career servants are all dedicated in the tradition of Benjamin Franklin to thrift and frugality and to improved service for the American people.”  

Gronouski promoted the original five-digit zip code system, and worked to end racial discrimination against postal employees.

History of the Postmaster General

The office, in one form or other is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence.  Benjamin Franklin was appointed by the Continental Congress as the First Postmaster General in 1775, serving just over 15 months. Until 1971 the postmaster general was the head of the post office department (or simply “post office” until the 1820s). 

During that era the postmaster general was appointed by the President of the United States, with the advice and consent of the United States Senate.  From 1829 to 1971 the postmaster general was a member of the President’s cabinet.  The cabinet post of postmaster general was often given to a new president’s campaign manager or other key political supporter, and was considered something of a sinecure, an office which gives a reward without requiring much work or responsibility.  

The postmaster general was in charge of the governing party’s patronage, and was a powerful position which held much influence within the party.  

In 1971 the post office department was reorganized into the United States Postal Service, an independent agency of the Executive Branch.  Therefore, the postmaster general is no longer a member of the cabinet and is no longer in the line of presidential succession. The postmaster general is now appointed by nine governors, appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate.  

The governors, along with the postmaster general and the deputy postmaster general constitute the full postal service Board of Governors. Mr. Gronouski was first Polish-American to serve in the cabinet.  He was also believed to be the first cabinet officer to have actually earned a PhD.  Whatever reservation he may have had about labeling seen as an ethnic token in presidential politics, Mr. Gronouski, whose mother was Irish, did not disappoint his patrons.  

In his first 14 months in office, Mr. Gronoski, whose  candor and pipe-smoking informality endeared him to the Washington Press Corps, held 63 news conferences, traveled 127,000 air miles, visited 132 cities, and gave 445 speeches, an average of more than one a day, many of them to Polish-American groups,

But for all his political actions, he found time to become a highly effective postal administrator.  Among other things he moved aggressively against racial discrimination in postal employment and spearheaded the transition to the five-digit zip code (after conceding that he did not know his own).

President Nixon Takes office

He took office in 1969 and Gronouski became founding dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin, serving as dean until 1974.  He served as a member of the Eisenhower Commission (on international radio broadcasting) and as the chairman of the board for  international broadcasting during the Carter administration.

Ambassador to Poland in 1965

Mr. Gronouski continued his barnstorming ways.  Operating as what amounted to President Johnson’s personal envoy to Eastern Europe, he used Poland as a base for what were billed as “bridge-building” trips to other Soviet Bloc countries seeking to promote trade and other ties with the United States.

After President Johnson left office in 1969, Mr.  Gronouski, who had helped run Hubert H. Humphrey’s abortive bid for the presidency in 1968, helped design the curriculum at the Johnson School in Austin and served as its first dean.  In 1977 he was called back to federal service by President Jimmy Carter to become Chairman of the Board for international broadcasting which ran Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty.  

After this, he retired and moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin where he lived for the rest of his life.  He died on January 7, 1996.  He is interred in Allouez Catholic Cemetery and Chapel Mausoleum in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  He was truly a great American.

References: 1.John A. Gronouski – The Full Wiki; 2.United States Postmaster General – Wikipedia; 3. John A. Gronouski – Wikipedia; 4. John A.Gronouski – Knowpia; 5. Lyndon B. Johnson: Remarks at the Swearing in of John A. Gronouski; 6. John A. Gronouski (1963-1965) Miller Center; 7.John A. Gronouski, 76, Kennedy-Era Postal Chief-The New York Times.

Utica Phoenix Staff
Utica Phoenix Staff
The Utica Phoenix is a publication of For The Good, Inc., a 501 (c) (3) in Utica, NY. The Phoenix is an independent newsmagazine covering local news, state news, community events, and more. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook, and also check out Utica Phoenix Radio at 95.5 FM/1550 AM, complete with Urban hits, morning talk shows, live DJs, and more.

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