Happy 50th birthday to the ZIP code (VIDEO)

Once feared by many Americans, the ZIP code turned 50 on Monday.

Introduced by the United States Postal Service in 1963, the Zone Improvement Plan Code was hailed in cheesy public service announcements as "five trailblazing numbers" that would launch "every piece of mail with space-age speed and precision."

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Up unti then, the nation's mail had been sorted by hand.

But in the early 20th century, the Postal Service was struggling to keep up with the rapidly expanding mail system and needed a quicker, more reliable way to sort the billions of letters and packages coming through its offices.

ZIP codes gave the Postal Service the ability to bypass messy handwriting and antiquated addresses with digits that could be read by machines.

But their introduction did not come without controversy — and a bit of Orwellian fear.

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"People were concerned they were being turned into numbers," US Postal Service historian Jennifer Lynch told Time magazine. "They thought it was depersonalizing them."

Even today, some say ZIP codes have shifted from being a numerical system that defines "where we are to defining who we are — far beyond our mail box," according to The New Republic.

But while "snail mail" may be going the way of the dinosaur, the ZIP code system appears here to stay.

On Monday, the agency's Office of the Inspector General recommended the codes be linked to new digital geographic systems based on latitude and longitude to further increase delivery accuracy.