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Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Washington, DC
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Interests: people, postage, and the post
Recent Activity
By Scott W. Devine, Paper Conservator Blind Reading: The Dead Letter Office Album is a small, leather bound scrapbook assembled sometime after 1883. The volume contains twenty-one clippings from the front of envelopes postmarked between 1883 and 1884. The clippings include difficult to read addresses that were deciphered by clerks in the Dead Letter Office. Once the correct address was known, the letters were sent on to their destination with a request to return the envelope, which was then mounted in the album with the correct address written on the back of each album page. Although the exact purpose of... Continue reading
Posted Sep 13, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Ted Wilson, Registrar Having worked at the National Postal Museum before it even opened in 1993, Registrar Ted Wilson is replete with knowledge and stories about the museum and its objects. In anticipation of the upcoming exhibit of musician John Lennon’s childhood stamp album, Ted describes how this extraordinary item became part of the museum’s collection. “John Lennon: The Green Album” opens on September 7th, 2018, at the National Postal Museum, the same day USPS releases the new John Lennon commemorative postage stamp. W. Wilson Hulme II, National Postal Museum Curator of Philately 2002-2007. In June 2005, Wilson Hulme... Continue reading
Posted Sep 4, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Hannah-Claire Allgood, Education Intern In Historic Preservation, students and professionals are asked to find the context and original purpose of a structure. Without that understanding, there is too much room for error and confusion in the preservation treatment process. The building’s background is its foundation for creation. Similarly, a stamp’s foundation is the context it was designed in. Applying my background in Preservation, I began investigating stamps and the years surrounding their release, looking for connections. Just over 30 years ago, the United States Postal Service (USPS) unveiled The North American Wildlife Issue at the 1987 Canadian Association for... Continue reading
Posted Aug 13, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Luke Tokman, Katzenberger Art History Intern The National Postal Museum is pleased to host our very first Katzenberger Art History intern Luke Tokman. Luke is working this summer on a project with our Research Chair Susan Smith, titled “Are Stamps Art?” My goal this summer is to create a comprehensive bibliography of every reference to postage stamps as art or design objects since 1840 (when the Penny Black – the first stamp* – was released). I’m hoping to better understand how stamps have been discussed over time by the philatelic, art, and design communities. 5c Crusade Against Cancer stamp;... Continue reading
Posted Aug 1, 2018 at National Postal Museum
Chief Yeoman Ruth (Woodworth); Creveling Courtesy Ruth (Woodworth) Creveling Noble Collection, Gift of Carol Dieckman, Women’s Memorial Foundation Collection By Lynn Heidelbaugh, Curator Eighteen-year-old Ruth Estelle Woodworth joined the US Navy on March 30, 1917, the same month the military opened enlistment to women for the first time. It was all possible because of an unintentional loophole in the Naval Reserve Act of 1916. The act authorized the enlistment of qualified “persons,” but did not specify any gender requirement for volunteers. By spring of 1917, the war raging in Europe had begun to profoundly affect the interests and principles of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 20, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Laura Baker, Curator at College Park Aviation Museum 1917 portrait of Charles Townley Chapman. Pilots, mechanics and photographers- oh my! Airmail required multiple people to keep the mail soaring through the air, but one of the most captivating jobs of them all was that of Charles Townley Chapman, a photographer at the College Park Airfield during the advent of America’s airmail service. He froze time with his breathtaking and treasured photographs of airmail from 1917-1919. Charles Townley Chapman, or C.T.C as his family remembers him, was born July 15, 1891 in Kensington, Maryland. A passion for photography runs deep... Continue reading
Posted Jul 17, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Calvin Mitchell, Assistant Curator of Philately Reflecting on her years in the White House, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, the wife of President Lyndon Johnson, wrote in her diary: “…Using the White House as a podium---hopefully---to thank, to applaud, to advertise, to rally citizens to action in improving our environment, gives me joy.” This statement characterizes her style and political determination which she cultivated over decades alongside her husband while he served in the U.S. Congress, as Vice President, and as President. Although Lady Bird left the White House 49 years ago, her legacy continues to flourish through her multiple... Continue reading
Posted Jun 29, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Holly Chisholm, National Postal Museum Intern Letter written by actor John Wayne showing his support for a Walt Disney commemorative stamp (click to enlarge). On December 15, 1966, the world mourned the loss of Walter Elias Disney, America’s well-loved animator, film producer, and theme-park entrepreneur. Following his death, tributes from around the world honored Disney and his legacy of beloved characters, including the 6-cent Walt Disney commemorative stamp issued by the United States Post Office on September 11, 1968. While postal regulations at the time stated that any non-presidential individual honored on a commemorative stamp must be dead for... Continue reading
Posted Jun 11, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Jessica Henn, Collections Assistant, Women In Military Service for America Memorial Foundation While working on the In Her Words: Women’s Duty and Service in World War I exhibition, currently on display at the National Postal Museum, I read many documents belonging to the four featured women. None quite resonated with me as much as the diary of Army nurse Lulu Belle (Wolfe) Smith. I took to calling it “a very slow and ill-detailed romance novel.” The story unravels gradually, with details slowly being revealed over weeks and months. One must sift through days of mundane details to get to... Continue reading
Posted May 22, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator As Fleet appraised the work ahead of him in early May he faced a deadline of May 15 to start the new airmail service with concern. The bulk of the work for this project had been focused on securing and equipping airfields. Only one pilot had been detailed to the mail service, First Lieutenant Walter Miller, who was stationed at Hazelhurst Field in Mineola, Long Island, NY. The Post Office then insisted that lieutenants James Edgerton and George Boyle be added to the list. Both were soon on their way to Hazelhurst. Edgerton’s father... Continue reading
Posted May 11, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Jessie Aucoin, School Programs Coordinator As National Letter Writing Month comes to a close, we'd like to share highlights from the Smithsonian Institution's most recent Material Culture Forum, which took place at the National Postal Museum and explored letters in many mediums. On March 6th, 2018, the National Postal Museum hosted the 107th meeting of the Material Culture Forum, a Smithsonian initiative to provide researchers with a recurring opportunity to engage with their colleagues from other departments and museums. Organized by Susan Smith, the Winton M. Blount Research Chair at the National Postal Museum (NPM), the Material Culture Forum... Continue reading
Posted Apr 26, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator In April 1918, the Post Office Department was a month away from the start of a regularly scheduled airmail service. Newspapers had begun to publish the date, May 15, but often modifying it as “tentative.” Early in the month, the location of only one airfield in the three planned cities (Washington, Philadelphia and New York) was actually identified – Potomac Park in Washington. While the space left much to be desired as an airfield, postal officials selected it because it was not far from the city’s post office. Major Fleet, who had been placed... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By J. Eva Meharry In 2001, the extremist branch of the Taliban infamously destroyed the two colossal Bamiyan Buddha statues, which stood for more than 1,400 years in the heart of Afghanistan. The following year UNESCO issued a 25,000-Afghanis Bamiyan postage stamp, abstractly illustrating one of the empty Buddha niches buried in the statue’s fallen rubble; and in 2003, the Afghan government issued a ‘Heritage of Afghanistan’ series, including four postage stamps depicting fragmented Buddhist artefacts. Two of the stamps illustrated broken fragments from a Bamiyan fresco and statue: a 20-Afghanis ‘Fragment’s of a Woman’s Face’ and a 100-Afghanis ‘Monumental... Continue reading
Posted Apr 10, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator Postmaster General Albert Burleson May 15, 2018 will mark the 100th anniversary of the world’s first regularly scheduled and continuous airmail service. On that day, planes connected New York City, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. by air. But the road to May 15, 1918 was a rough one. As late as March of that year, Postmaster General Albert Burleson was still trying to iron out the details of the new service. Burleson had asked Congress for $50,000 to try an airmail service in 1913 and 1914. But outside of Burleson, President Woodrow Wilson’s administration did... Continue reading
Posted Mar 28, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Jessica Henn, Collections Assistant, Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation Morale is one of the main factors that can help or cripple an army. Thus when the US joined World War I, the YMCA set out to work alongside the US Army to keep up morale - feeding soldiers, providing comfortable spaces for them, and otherwise keeping them entertained. An informational pamphlet for women thinking of joining the YMCA described the work expected of YMCA workers, “While it is the constant duty of the women to transform bleak, muddy huts into popular and attractive gathering places, and... Continue reading
Posted Mar 23, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Holly Chisholm, National Postal Museum Intern The exhibition, “Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks,” displays a number of objects connected to the parkland and national monuments in the Washington, D.C., area, including patriotic covers from World War II and blocks of the Iwo Jima (Marines Issue) stamp. The 3-cent stamp features Joseph Rosenthal’s famous photograph of the second Iwo Jima flag raising, an image from 1945 recently in the news after research concluded that one of the photo’s six men had been misidentified Raising the US flag for the second time atop Mount Suribachi by Joe Rosenthal; Iwo... Continue reading
Posted Mar 16, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Lynn Heidelbaugh, Curator “If you do not hear from me often you may know I am all right & just busy,” were the reassuring words that army nurse Greta Wolf sent to her family on October 28, 1918. Her hospital was indeed busy. The American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) was in the midst of its largest, and ultimately last, offensive. Just two days prior to Wolf’s letter, the hospital had a record number of 2,288 patients.[i] She wrote: “My ward has 112 patients and they are from all over. My, the boys have had some experiences over here.” In the... Continue reading
Posted Mar 6, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Calvin Mitchell, Assistant Curator of Philately Despite concerns about racial discrimination in America, African Americans’ enthusiasm for supporting America’s entry in World War I was quite high in 1917. W.E.B Du Bois, one of the leading African American intellectuals of this period, rallied black support for the war effort in his memorable essay titled “Close Ranks.” Du Bois wrote: “Let us, while this war lasts, forget our social grievance and close ranks shoulder to shoulder with our fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy. We make no ordinary sacrifice, but we make it gladly and... Continue reading
Posted Feb 28, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Holly Chisholm, National Postal Museum Intern 1903 Bright Angel Hotel cover; loan from Marjory J. Sente. In today’s day and age, hotels are inextricably linked to vacationing and travel. Hotels not only provide travelers with overnight lodging but also with amenities and entertainment services at famous locations around the world. At the same time, hotels can also be tourist destinations, using their lavish accommodations to supplement the more remote attractions found in nature. The current exhibition “Trailblazing: 100 Years of our National Parks,” contains hotel covers and stationary that highlight the Grand Canyon’s early years of tourism in connection... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Anne Snider, Purdue University PhD Candidate and National Postal Museum Guest Researcher Jugo 1921 first stamps with Aleksander and Peter I, Fig. 1 Yugoslavia has always been a multinational country; its people have different historical pasts and cultural traditions, including three main religions – Islam and two forms of Christianity, Roman Catholicism and Serbian Orthodoxy. These historical pasts were shaped by interactions with the Habsburg and Ottoman Empires that conquered and held portions of the northern and eastern regions of what later became Yugoslavia. After independence in 1918, successive Yugoslav governments dealt differently with the question of how to... Continue reading
Posted Feb 13, 2018 at National Postal Museum
By Jessie Aucoin, School Programs Coordinator Though it is hard to believe, the new year is almost here; the weather is colder and the nights longer. The excitement of the new school year has died down, and students and teachers alike have settled into their new routines. Perhaps it’s time to think about shaking things up a bit…perhaps it’s time to bring a student group to the National Postal Museum! After some departmental restructuring and reorganizing, our educational programs are back up and running! Add to that the launch of four new programs, and we have a total of twelve... Continue reading
Posted Dec 28, 2017 at National Postal Museum
By Lynn Heidelbaugh, Curator One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a curator is about care packages, namely, what did family and friends send to each other during one time period or another? The curiosity is understandable—who among us doesn’t want to peek inside the mail? It’s rather easy to take a look at historic letters and know what people were writing about, but packages by their nature are more ephemeral; the packaging was typically discarded and contents put to some use. Letters are one source that provide hints about what people mailed in packages. Thank you... Continue reading
Posted Dec 20, 2017 at National Postal Museum
By Holly Chisholm, National Postal Museum Intern In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, nature and health-related wonders were important attractions in American vacationing. The Industrial Revolution had constructed cities, factories, and railroads, but it had also brought rapid change to the American workplace and pollution to the surrounding environment. In the face of these changes, many Americans longed for the wilderness, venturing into the forests and canyons of the United States as a way of both reliving a simpler time and escaping the crowded city. Similarly, in the absence of genuine scientific cures, physicians of this era often... Continue reading
Posted Dec 11, 2017 at National Postal Museum
In 2018, the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum will collaborate with the Women In Military Service For America Memorial Foundation (Women’s Memorial) on an exhibition highlighting four women who served their country during World War I. The exhibition, which will feature their letters and artifacts (such as original uniforms) from the Women’s Memorial collection, will explore their personal accounts of wartime experiences and examine their perspectives on life, service, and duty during a time of great change for the professionalization of women’s work and the country at large. While the National Postal Museum will host the exhibition in our new Franklin... Continue reading
Posted Nov 7, 2017 at National Postal Museum
By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator More than a century before the Continental Congress named Benjamin Franklin our Postmaster General, a Boston tavern owned by Richard Fairbanks was designated the colonies’ first post office. On November 6, 1639, the Massachusetts General Court named Fairbanks’ tavern as a post office for letters coming into or going out of the colony to overseas posts. According to the court, this was: “for preventing the miscarriage of letters; and it is ordered, that notice be given that Richard Fairbanks, his house in Boston is the place appointed for all letters which are brought from... Continue reading
Posted Nov 6, 2017 at National Postal Museum