Abbreviations and codes for the states and possessions of the United States are used for postal addresses, data processing, general abbreviations and other purposes. (Also included in this list are abbreviations for three independent nations related to the United States through the Compact of Free Association.)
As early as October 1874, the United States Post Office recognized common abbreviations for states and territories. However, abbreviations were only accepted because of their popularity; the Post Office preferred all names spelled out in full to avoid confusion.
The traditional abbreviations for U.S. states and territories, widely used in mailing addresses prior to the introduction of two-letter U.S. postal abbreviations, are still commonly used for other purposes (such as legal citation), and are still recognized (though discouraged) by the Postal Service.
The modern two-letter abbreviated codes for the states and territories originated during the Post Office's switch to ZIP codes in 1963. The purpose was to make room for the ZIP codes in the address, rather than to standardize state abbreviations per se.
Since 1963, only one state abbreviation has been changed. Originally Nebraska was shortened to "NB", but this was changed to "NE" to avoid conflict with New Brunswick in Canada.
Prior to 1987, when the U.S. Secretary of Commerce approved the two-letter codes for use in government documents, the United States Government Printing Office (GPO) suggested their own set of abbreviations, with some states being left unabbreviated. Today, the GPO supports United States Postal Service standard.
Current use of traditional abbreviations
The Associated Press Stylebook, the usage guide for most United States newspapers, counsels the use of abbreviations for most state names, when appended to a city name (for example, "Santa Ana, Calif."). AP suggests spelling out "Alaska", "Hawaii" and all state names with five or fewer letters; and, unlike the old GPO recommendations, AP suggests spelling out the names of all non-state territories, with the exception of the District of Columbia (D.C.). Legal citation manuals, such as the Bluebook and ALWD Citation Manual, typically use these "traditional abbreviations" as well.
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