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The J.W. Westcott Co. – the only floating ZIP Code in the U.S. – celebrates 150 years in Detroit

Posted at 3:47 PM, Jun 07, 2024

(WXYZ) — The J.W. Westcott Co., which delivers mail 24/7 to ships going down the Detroit River, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year.

Officials gathered at their headquarters along the Detroit River in Southwest Detroit to celebrate the milestone on Friday.

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The service is the only floating ZIP code in the United States and delivers "mail by the pail" to freighters along the river. The company has three ships and makes deliveries by pulling up next to the ships, where a bucket is lowered with outgoing mail on a ope, and then that mail is swapped out for mail going to the ship.

On top of the mail service, the Westcott also delivers pilots, crew, supplies, packages and even more.

Currently, it's owned by James M. Hogan, according to Roger LeLievre, who tells the story of the Westcott in the 2024 edition of the book "Know Your Ships."

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Hogan's great-grandfather, John Ward Westcott, came up with the idea for a mailboat back in 1874. John Westcott worked in his father's boatyard as a kid, and eventually became the youngest captain on the Great Lakes back at the time, according to the website.

Originally, Westcott would field destination and dock information from shipping companies and deliver them by row boat from his dock on Belle Isle.

Eventually, in 1948, the J.W. Westcott became an official U.S. Postal Service Mail Boat and would earn the world's first non-military floating ZIP Code – 48222.

According to LeLievre's story, Captain Sam Buchanan has been manning the ships for 39 years and grew up in Southwest Detroit.

“The river gets in your blood,” Buchanan said, according to LeLievre. “I always wanted to be a freighter captain, then I met (his wife) Gwen. It’s a family-oriented company, and that’s what I wanted. … When you work here, you meet pilots, captains, crazy deckhands – people you never thought you’d meet.” Continuing the family tradition, his sons Shane, Brandon and Joe also pilot the mailboat, as has his daughter Jessica.