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Nancy Pope
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In 1918 the Post Office Department turned to the telegraph to monitor the progress of its newest endeavor, the airmail service. The proposed New York City-Chicago airmail route was the Department's response to business's need for swift mail communication. Two pilots, Max Miller and Eddie Gardner, were tasked with flying between New York and Chicago in one day. If airplanes couldn’t link the two cities in less than 24 hours, it was more economical to keep moving the mail between them by train. Among the challenges they would face were the Allegheny Mountains, considered by some to be the most... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2010 at National Postal Museum
In 1835, the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS) took their campaign to a new level with what could be called the first use of a direct mail campaign. The Society, founded two years earlier by Arthur and Lewis Tappan of New York, mailed a number of anti-slavery newspapers and printed materials to religious and civic leaders in the south. They selected names from newspapers, city directories, and other published lists. The reception for these unordered and mostly unwelcomed publications was swift, widespread, and hostile. On July 29, the steamer “Columbia” arrived at the Charleston, SC harbor, bringing mail sacks full of... Continue reading
Posted Jul 29, 2010 at National Postal Museum
Illustrators Currier & Ives produced this lithograph of the last hours of the “SS Golden Gate” The discovery of gold in California in 1848 led to a rush of hopeful fortune hunters to the west coast. The Post Office Department kept the area’s inhabitants connected with the rest of the world by moving mail on steamboats that traveled to Central America, where mail (and passengers) traveled across either the Panamanian or Nicaraguan isthmus to the opposite shore where steamers waited to take them the rest of the way. Among the grandest steamers running on the Pacific side was the “S.S.... Continue reading
Posted Jul 27, 2010 at National Postal Museum
The museum’s Long Life Vehicle on display in the “Moving the Mail” atrium exhibit. On July 11, 1987, this white, boxy postal truck known as a Long Life Vehicle was brought into the Smithsonian Institution’s collection. The vehicle was added to the National Philatelic Collection, in the National Museum of American History. In 1993, that collection, including this vehicle, was shared with the public when the National Postal Museum opened in the old DC City Post Office building next to Union Station. The Long Life Vehicle, or LLV, marked a major change in how postal officials approached buying vehicles. Until... Continue reading
Posted Jul 11, 2010 at National Postal Museum
In the last years of the 19th century, mail and people crossed from Europe and Asia to the United States by boat. Just as we spend time in line at customs at international airports, ships to the US docked first at Quarantine stations before proceeding to port. In 1895, postal officials experimented with the idea of sending a mail boat to the quarantine station to relieve ships of their mail sacks, speeding away to various piers where mail was taken to post offices or train stations for processing and delivery. The successful experiment led to the implantation of the service... Continue reading
Posted Jul 1, 2010 at National Postal Museum
In the afternoon of May 31, 1889, the town of Johnstown, Pennsylvania was devastated by a flood. This rusted, broken, and damaged mailbox was recovered from the area. The humble mailbox is a symbol of everyday life in towns all over the country. The 1889 Johnstown, Pennsylvania, flood was an engineering disaster, and this mailbox remnant is a reminder of the many lives lost on a normal day in an average American community. After days of relentless rain, a dam built by South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club to create an artificial lake at their mountain resort finally ruptured. Over... Continue reading
Posted May 28, 2010 at National Postal Museum
This advertisement, for the White Motor Company, was published in a number of magazines, including the May 24, 1941 issue of “The Saturday Evening Post.” The company touted their longevity, “for 40 years the greatest name in trucks” appears at the bottom of the page, and used their connection with the U.S. Post Office Department to promote itself. The bus that appears in the advertisement was used in the Highway Post Office (HPO) bus service. As railroad passenger traffic declined, railway companies were pulling more and more trains out of service. As a result, the Department began to outfit buses... Continue reading
Posted May 25, 2010 at National Postal Museum
The National Postal Museum has joined numerous organizations across the country in celebration of National Train Day on May 8. The selected date commemorates the completion of the U.S. transcontinental railroad in 1869. As visitors to the museum know, trains played a critical part in America’s postal history. From 1864-1977, the Railway Mail Service used clerks on board moving trains to sort and process mail, speeding delivery. RPO Clerks hard at work sorting mail In recognition of the history of this critical service, the National Postal Museum has launched a website devoted to America’s Railway Post Office (RPO) clerks. As... Continue reading
Posted May 7, 2010 at National Postal Museum
Once you’ve made sure that your taxes are out of the way, take a moment to consider famed aviator Charles Lindbergh. Of course we all know that he was the first to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean, making his historic flight in 1927. But did you know how Lindy made a living prior to that? For a time, he worked as an airmail pilot. In 1925 Robertson Aircraft Corporation, owned by brothers Bill and Frank Robertson, was one of five companies to obtain a US airmail contract. These contracts were the first step in turning the operations of the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 15, 2010 at National Postal Museum
In the summer of 1963 the Post Office Department introduced its new ZIP Code plan to the American public. Every address would be assigned a five-digit number that was to be added to the traditional city and state combination. Postal officials anticipated some resistance by the public to using ZIP codes. Not only did people have to remember a series of numbers assigned to their address, but also learn the numbers assigned to each of their correspondents. The Department began a nation-wide publicity campaign for the service, using posters, radio, and television advertisements, to enticing noted singer Ethel Merman to... Continue reading
Posted Mar 11, 2010 at National Postal Museum
On this day in 1858, Philadelphia iron products manufacturer Albert Potts patented his design for a lamppost mounted collection mailbox (patent #19,578). His box was designed to be mounted to a lamppost so people could drop their letters into the box instead of making a special trip to the post office to mail their letters. Potts called his invention a “new and Improved combination of Letter-Box and Lamp-Post for Municipalities.” The bulk of Potts’ brief patent description details how the mailbox should be attached to the lamppost. His hope was not only that the US Post Office Department use these... Continue reading
Posted Mar 9, 2010 at National Postal Museum
The groundhog has seen his shadow and you’re leaving the snow tires on while looking over your shoulder at the weather report and wondering if another big storm was on its way. Snow is certainly a challenge to driving these days. But imagine what it was in the 1920s when automobiles were still relatively new additions to the American road. Among those who purchased automobiles hoping to make their work life easier were a number of Rural Free Delivery carriers. Unlike their city cousins, RFD carriers were, and are, responsible for purchasing their own transportation. And while a new car... Continue reading
Posted Feb 19, 2010 at National Postal Museum
Wiseman-Cooke airplane 99 years ago today, Fred Wiseman took off in the airplane that hangs in our atrium just above the train car. It would take him two days to carry some mail the 25 miles from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California. He carried three letters from the mayor and other town leaders, some groceries, and copies of the local newspaper, the "Press-Democrat." Engine problems forced Wiseman down in a large muddy field before he could complete the trip. A skid broke in landing but both it and the engine were repaired. It was too late to fly out that... Continue reading
Posted Feb 17, 2010 at National Postal Museum
As the East Coast continues to crawl out from under this December’s record snowfall, the Postal Museum added some wintery images to its Flickr Commons site. If you haven’t had a chance to look through the Commons site yet, now’s the time. Or, you could sit through Uncle Bob’s tales of the years he walked 10 miles in the snow to school and back (uphill both ways) one more time. The Commons project includes over 25 museums, libraries, archives, and institutions on Flickr, sharing their photographic treasures with the public. The Smithsonian Institution and the National Postal Museum were among... Continue reading
Posted Dec 23, 2009 at National Postal Museum
Postmaster General Frank C. Walker watches as President Roosevelt deposits a letter into the first Highway Post Office bus. One of the first people to have their mail sorted on the new Highway Post Office bus was President Franklin D. Roosevelt? The president, shown here with his Postmaster General Frank C. Walker, placed a letter in a mail drop on the first Highway Post Office bus. Although not currently on display, this bus, built by the White Motor Company of Cleveland, OH, is in the National Postal Museum’s collection. The new service was created to replace Railway Mail Service in... Continue reading
Posted Dec 8, 2009 at National Postal Museum
Sarah, These men were contract mail carriers. They did not stop to deliver mail along the way, nor did they deliver mail to people when they reached their destination. They turned the mail over to the local postmaster, who was then responsible for getting mail to his or her town. Depending on the weather, the Biedermans could make the trip in as little as 24 hours, or as long as 4 1/2 days. Nancy Pope
Curator's Picks will be a regular feature on the NPM Blog. Historian & Curator Nancy Pope (a walking encyclopedia of American postal history) is a 25-year veteran of the Smithsonian. The irresistible lure of gold drew thousands of Americans to the Klondike and Alaska in the late 1890s. Words from home were a desperately-sought comfort in the strange, harsh land. It fell to the Post Office Department to ensure that these stampeders could maintain contact with family and friends thousands of miles away. For several years, most of the contractors who were hired to deliver mail used dog sleds during... Continue reading
Posted Sep 10, 2009 at National Postal Museum