USPS Remote Encoding Facility – Salt Lake City, Utah - Atlas Obscura

USPS Remote Encoding Facility

Where unreadable addresses are read, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 


Since the world has not yet invented a robot capable of reading crappy handwriting, a team of the finest postal workers in the United States toils day and night in an effort to deliver the most indecipherable of mail.

Tucked away in a nondescript parking lot on the outskirts of Salt Lake City is the United States Postal Service Remote Encoding Center. All day, every day, workers inside sit at specialized stations as monitors present scanned pieces of correspondence with questionable addresses scrawled on their envelopes.

Shifts last eight hours, and employees are trained to take ten seconds or less with each piece of mail as it whizzes by on their screen. It’s their job to make an educated guess as to the intent of the sender before shuffling the once questionable piece of mail along on its route of delivery.

For many years, the best OCR machines of the day had great difficulty reading all but the best hand printed addresses. Script was completely unreadable by the best of OCR machines. During that time the only option was to scan the face of each mail piece and if the OCR machine decided it couldn’t read the address, it was sent to a Remote Encoding Center (REC)  designated for that Processing and Distribution Center for the equivalent of human OCR. Initially, the USPS wanted to use REC sites in Mexico to reduce labor costs. However, the US postal union quickly protested and killed the concept of near shore REC sites. Fifty-five REC sites were built across the US to supply the human OCR needs. As OCR software improved, up to 95% of the previously unreadable script addresses became readable. With the widespread advent of email reducing the amount of first class mail, and the ability of OCR post processing to read all but 5% of the mail, all but the single remaining Salt Lake City REC site was decommissioned.

Even today, over five million pieces of mail still pass under the remaining REC site’s roof every day. This makes the Salt Lake depot the last hope for postal customers with shoddy handwriting. Put simply: if you have poor penmanship, all your mail passes through here without exception. Maybe consider clearly addressing a thank you note to the folks inside one of these days?

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