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Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Washington, DC
Email Us: NPMBlog@si.edu
Interests: people, postage and the post
Recent Activity
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On a beautiful spring morning in 1918 thousands of people were on hand to view a pilot take off from Potomac Park, Washington, D.C. The pilot, Lieutenant George Leroy Boyle, would be carrying sacks of mail to begin the nation’s first regularly scheduled airmail service. Boyle was one of a handful of Army Air Corps pilots were tapped to fly the mail for the Post Office Department that day. Continue reading
Posted May 13, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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The 10 Agents of Deterioration are the most common and preventable problems that cause permanent harm to any collection, no matter if you are in a museum or at home. Being aware of these “agents” allows collectors to create a plan for the long term care and preservation for their artifacts. The 10 agents are: Fire, Water, Pest, Physical Force, Neglect, Theft and Vandalism, Incorrect Temperature, Incorrect Humidity, Chemical Deterioration, and Light. Continue reading
Posted Apr 29, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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On May 1, cultural institutions around the country will participate in MayDay, a day initiated by Heritage Preservation to promote disaster preparedness and the care of artifacts. In honor of this day, the preservation and education departments have collaborated to create a matching game to engage and educate the public about the 10 Agents of Deterioration. Continue reading
Posted Apr 24, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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A rural letter carrier made news when he landed his gyrocopter on the US Capitol grounds in a protest call for campaign finance reform. The carrier was immediately arrested and did not have a chance to deliver his protest mail. This was not the first time such a device was used to carry the mail. Although it was the first wildly unsanctioned one. Continue reading
Posted Apr 16, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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For more than a decade many U.S. letter carriers made their daily rounds in vehicles that could be immobilized by three inches of snow, tip over if driving around a corner more than 25 mph, caught in a wind gust, or even by large dogs jumping on them. Continue reading
Posted Apr 9, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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“Freedom Just Around the Corner: Black America from Civil War to Civil Rights” opened February 12 at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The museum’s first exhibition devoted entirely to African American history marks 150 years since the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery throughout the United States. The exhibition, open through Feb. 15, 2016, chronicles the African American experience through the perspective of stamps and mail. Continue reading
Posted Feb 27, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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Ben Eielson was an aviation pioneer. Known as the "Father of Alaska's Airmail Service," he was born in Hatton, North Dakota in 1897. Like many other young men, Eielson enlisted in the armed forces when the U.S. entered the First World War, ending up in Signal Corps' aviation section. After the end of the war, Eielson took to barnstorming, as did several other ex-military pilots. There wasn't much money to be made in that line of work, and after a few years he decided to accept a teaching position in Alaska. Continue reading
Posted Feb 20, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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When was the last time you wrote down anything? Do you always leave notes to yourself and others by texting? Then it’s time to put down the phone and pick up a pen. January 23 is National Handwriting Day. Continue reading
Posted Jan 23, 2015 at National Postal Museum
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November 22, 1935, a plane took off from San Francisco heading to Hawaii. A regular event today, but in 1935 aviation was still in its early years and the plane that took off that day quickly captured national and international attention. The China Clipper was the first commercial aircraft to establish a regularly travel route from across the Pacific. The “China” Clipper was somewhat of a misnomer. The route extended from San Francisco through Hawaii, Midway, Wake and Guam before ending in the Philippines, not China. This route was selected because it was an “all-American” flag route. The China Clipper was the first of a series of flying boats owned by Pan American airways that crisscrossed the Pacific beginning in 1935. The boats were named for the clipper sailing ships of the mid-19th century, the speedy trading ships. Continue reading
Posted Nov 21, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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Post offices are the heart of numerous small towns and rural communities. Whether located in tall, distinguished buildings in the middle of town or nestled away in a small, rural country stores, post offices continue to bind citizens to each other and to their government. For many rural Americans, sending a letter or picking up the day’s mail remains a cherished opportunity to chat and catch up on local news, or just take a break. Small post offices can also cost more money to run than they bring in, putting them on the front line for cuts when savings need to be made. Continue reading
Posted Nov 19, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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Potts Mailbox - woman mailingIn 1858 Albert Potts patented the first mailbox that the Post Office Department ever used. These new boxes, technically known now as collection boxes were then referred to as letter boxes, were placed on city sidewalks, giving people a chance to mail a letter without having to go to their local post office. Continue reading
Posted Nov 3, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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In October 1918, Second Assistant Postmaster General Otto Praeger, in charge of the nation’s airmail service, produced and distributed this small booklet promoting the success of the Post Office Department’s airmail (or aerial mail, as it was then known) service. The booklet touted the dependability of the nation’s airmail service at a time when aviation was still young and accidents, often fatal, were common. Continue reading
Posted Oct 16, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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I have just completed a six week paper conservation internship at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum (NPM). The purpose of the internship was to gain professional experience in the practice of conservation in an industry setting, and to manifest a network of professional contacts in the field of my related specialism. To gain entry into the conservation profession with a MA level qualification, vocational training courses, and multiple internships and fellowships are required. As such I was thrilled that being given the opportunity to work at NPM, as the experience at such an internationally renowned museum would provide an invaluable opportunity for professional development. Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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In December 1942 Lt. Col. Noel Parrish assumed command of the Tuskegee Army Airfield (TAAF) and during the next four years, TAAF produced some of the nation’s finest and celebrated servicemen, the Tuskegee Airmen. As the white commander of a predominantly African American military installation, Lt. Col. Parrish faced both local white citizens who were not supportive of the facility or its mission, and some white senior military and political leaders who believed that African Americans were intellectually incapable of flying combat aircraft. Continue reading
Posted Sep 29, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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Sometimes a disaster catches us off guard, arriving in ground-shaking form like the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that shook the east coast in 2011. Other times, it comes in the cloak of the night as a quietly leaking pipe in the basement. And every so often it seems to arrive all once like the flood waters of the 1966 Flood of the Arno River in Florence, Italy, which some say was the catalyst for the review and improvement of disaster preparedness as well as art conservation and historic preservation. Continue reading
Posted Sep 18, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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Sometimes wanting to display an artifact for the public to experience and wanting to preserve it for posterity is a hard balance to find. Light is a source of damage to artifacts and the effects are irreversible. In the Postal Museum’s new exhibit, Behind the Badge, which opened June 2014, the staff decided to display two extremely light sensitive artifacts: a letter and envelope from the 2001 anthrax attacks and a detonator from a 1920s train robbery. Normally, both objects, if put on display in regular exhibit cases, would only be allowed on display for a few months; otherwise light damage would eventually cause irreversible fading. The objects would then have to be stored in dark cabinets for safe keeping by the Collections staff; the only way the public could see them would be through pictures, which is never the same as seeing the real thing. The museum wanted the public to enjoy viewing the artifacts for as long as possible, so the Preservation staff began researching solutions to help mitigate the light damage problem. They found VariGuard SmartGlass™. Continue reading
Posted Sep 11, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator September 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Washington, DC city post office building. While the building still has an operating post office, the bulk of the space was turned over to other agencies after an extensive renovation of the building at the end of the 20th century. Among the new tenants to the building was the National Postal Museum, which opened in 1993. The building is located on Massachusetts avenue next to Union Station, which had itself just opened seven years earlier. At the turn of the 20th century, Washington’s... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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On August 28, 1864, while the nation was still in the midst of the Civil War, the Post Office Department established the Railway Mail Service. The new service revolutionized the way mail was processed by sorting mail aboard moving trains, not just in post offices. Trains had been carrying mail for almost 30 years by that time. Under that system, mail bags were loaded onto the trains to be carried to another post office for processing. Some were delivered, but many others were put back into bags for another train trip. Some postal officials began wondering if they could improve that process by putting clerks on the trains to sort mail along the way, dramatically reducing the time it took to receive a letter. Continue reading
Posted Aug 28, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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When you visit a museum, you stroll through the halls and rooms inspecting objects. After you have seen all there is to be seen, you leave. But what if the museum left the halls and rooms behind? What if the museum came to you? Continue reading
Posted Aug 18, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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Cobb Island is a small community in southern Charles County, Maryland. Its unofficial motto is ‘life is too short to not live by the water.’ Its first Post Office opened in Elgin’s store in 1927. The current Post Office located in the Cobb Island Market building serves not only as a place to send and collect mail, but a place to meet neighbors, and share community news. The Post Office has served as the social meeting place in the community for decades. However in 2012, the Cobb Island Post Office was scheduled for closure by USPS. At a public hearing held by Post Office officials, Cobb Islanders voiced their concerns of the impact of the closure on the community and the continued need to have a Post Office on the island. USPS subsequently decided against the closure. Continue reading
Posted Aug 7, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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As a graduate student in the Museum Studies Program at George Washington University, I am incredibly lucky to be interning this summer at the National Postal Museum in the Preservation Department. Part of my internship project is to assist the Conservator and Preservation Specialists in preparing objects for exhibition. Recently I have been working with objects for an upcoming exhibit, "Freedom Just Around the Corner: Civil War to Civil Rights," opening February 2015. I was given the task of researching some of the art pieces of the Postmaster General’s Collection (PMG), courtesy of the United States Postal Service. Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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The “Behind the Badge” exhibition opened today at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. It showcases the work of one of the nation’s oldest federal law-enforcement agencies. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service dates to 1776, when Benjamin Franklin first sent a surveyor to investigate the fledging nation’s mail routes for efficiency and security. While post offices, postal employees and mail are common sights across the country, Americans may not realize that behind each is a network of U.S. postal inspectors working to keep the mail safe and empowering consumers to protect themselves and prevent crimes. A special online version of the exhibit is available on the museum’s website. Continue reading
Posted Jun 27, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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“The museum needs YOU to create a new program to increase visitation. In your team: examine the museum, identify a target audience, then create a program plan based on the audience’s needs.” This was the challenge I tasked museum professionals in Puerto Rico: to learn by doing! What better way to apply information in a workshop than by testing your skills? Continue reading
Posted May 12, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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The National Postal Museum was recently visited by David Redden, a vice president of Sotheby’s, and some precious cargo, the One-Cent Magenta from British Guiana. (Sotheby's will auction the stamp in Manhattan in June.) Mr. Redden was joined by Robert Odenweller, of the museum's Council of Philatelists, a security officer, James Barron, a reporter from the New York Times and a photographer from the paper. Continue reading
Posted May 5, 2014 at National Postal Museum
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Figure 1Fifty years ago the Beatles invaded America with a musical sound and style that permanently influenced American music. Yet their transformative sound was influenced by a variety of distinctly American musical styles, such as Rhythm and Blues, Rock and Roll, and Country and Western. As a consequence of their of influence and popularity, the USPS issued a Beatles stamp as part of the 1960s Celebrate the Century (CTC) commemorative pane issued on September 17, 1999 in Green Bay, Wisconsin (and ,incidentally, the stamp design had been unveiled at a special unveiling ceremony in Liverpool, England on August 31,1999). Continue reading
Posted Mar 27, 2014 at National Postal Museum