Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Buried Treasure No. 23 National Postal Museum

Last Fall, we went to DC. The National Postal Museum was at the top of my places to see, especially since they had that postage stamp exhibit.
The building that houses the museum is grand. It's exactly what you hope it would look like. 
 I loved everything about the lobby, except that I had to put my camera and film through xray. That explains why these pictures came out like this. I'm disappointed, but let's make the best of it. It still gives you a good idea of the exhibit.
If you can't read the sign, it says:
"The stamp makes its debut. On May 1, 1840, Great Britain issues the world's first postage stamp: the Penny Black. It revolutionized postal services worldwide. Before postage stamps, mail recipients usually paid the postal fees. Sometimes they refused to pay. Fees often varied according to distance within a single country. With the Penny Black, mail could be sent anywhere in the United Kingdom for a standard fee. Senders prepaid the fee; the stamp provided proof of payment. The postage stamp was very popular with the British people. Use of the mails soared." 
 "Who invented the stamp? The idea came from a former schoolteacher named Rowland Hill. In 1837 Hill published a pamphlet entitled Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. In this document, Hill recommended that postal fees be prepaid with a bit of paper= covered at the back with a glutinous wash. The British government incorporated Hills idea in the British postal reforms of 1839. 
What is a stamp? A postage stamp provides official evidence that the sender has paid for postal services. Historically made of paper, ink, and gum, stamps are designed to be fixed a piece of mail. Perforations or die cuts allow stamps to be separated easily from each other. Stamps usually include the country's name, postal value, and an image. The beauty and historical significance of these images inspire many people to collect stamps.
By the 1850s adhesive postage stamps were available and people no longer needed to go to the post office to mail letters they could keep stamps at home and mail letters at their leisure. So the post office department began to build and install mailboxes throughout US cities."
During the late 1800s and early 1900 stamps focused on historical topics such as
migration and territorial expansion
anniversaries of historical events
war and propaganda
famous Americans

Stamp designs became more streamlined through the use of
lighter colors
san serif fonts
optional frames

The use of rotary presses led to the introduction of
photo engraving, which produced grainier images
expanded formats such as coil stamps"
In recent decades Stamp content has focused on common national interest such as:
popular culture
American diversity
great achievements

Modern stamp design is more freeform and tends to use:
a full palette of colors
custom typography
the full canvas for the image

The introduction of offset presses and computer technology has enabled:
a wider range of color
innovations such as holograms and die cuts
chemical technology have enabled self-adhesive stamps."
They had a table of vintage postage there, and visitors were encouraged to take a few to start their collection. 
"By 1997 optical character recognition OCR software could recognize handwritten block letters and translate them into code and double check the address against the database of known addresses and names. Of course, some handwriting is so bad that it challenges even the best machines. When this happens, an image of the letter is sent to a remote encoding center located hundreds or even thousands of miles away, where workers read and decipher the scanned images. Then they return that information to automatic machinery that applies the appropriate routing barcode and moves the mail piece back into the mail stream."
This collection of old mail boxes was  so cool. That classic olive green "LETTERS" is my favorite.
 They even had some from other countries.
"Mail in times of trouble
War, natural disasters, epidemics, and other types of adversity have an impact on mail, leaving behind objects that bear testament to history. Pieces of mail that survived challenging circumstances such as these provide evidence of how normal communications were disrupted and how postal authorities coped with formidable obstacles. With the help of innovative ideas, clever inventions, and persistence on the part of the postal employees, the mail usually manage to get through even during the most difficult times."
They had a mailbox there that was across from the twin towers, and mail from the Titantic and Hindenburg. 
"Airmail in America
The United States post office department created the nations commercial aviation industry. From 1918 to 1927, the post office department built and operated the nations airmail service, establishing roots, testing aircraft and training pilots. When the department turned the service over to private contractors in 1927, the system with a point of national pride. 

The department's assistance did not end in 1927. Early passenger traffic was almost nonexistent. Mail contacts provided a financial base that encouraged the growth of the nation's fledging commercial aviation system. Companies used those funds to purchase larger and safer airplanes, which encouraged passenger traffic.

The needs of passenger traffic overtook those of mail cargo in the second half of the 20th century. Air line companies organized the routes to maximize passenger needs. In 1971 a new company, federal express incorporated with the idea of designing a shipping system specifically for airfreight.
By the end of the 20th century FedEx operated the world's largest all cargo air fleet.
In 2001, the US Postal Service and FedEx teamed up to help both organizations reach more addresses and speed mail delivery in the US and across the globe."
"In 1918 the post office department requested hundreds de Havilland planes from the Army. These airplanes were not designed for the demand of airmail service. It's greatest flaw was the placement of the cockpit. Minor accidents turned deadly when pilots were trapped between the engine and fuel compartment. 
In January 1919 the planes underwent extensive renovation, and the cockpit was moved to the rear. The fabric fuselage was replaced with plywood sheets and the landing gear was fitted with a heavy axle and larger wheels.

The retrofitted to Havillands became known as the workforce of the airmail service. In their first year service airplane carried more than 775 million letters."
"A is for advertising covers
In the late 19th century, businesses dressed up their envelopes and postal cards with elaborate colorful images to promote their goods and services. Today, printing technology and targeted marketing techniques join forces to produce envelopes literally covered with images, slogans, and offers. Both vintage and modern covers provide a glimpse of the culture commerce and design of their times."
"Helping unclogged the mail
After World War II, mail volume grew every year- it doubled between 1946 in 1966. Dependent on federal subsidies, the post office couldn't buy enough machines or hire enough employees to keep up. In October 1966 a flood of holiday advertisements and election mailings choked the system. The Chicago post office, the world's largest postal facility at the time was overwhelmed by mail. It stopped delivering mail for three weeks. Mail overflowed surrounding post offices. The mail backup was felt across the country. Change was essential.

By the early 1960s the swelling volume of mail was texting the post office department to it's limits. Zoning improvement plan - ZIP codes-  were one response to this growing mountain of mail. Using numbers to stand for regions, cities, post offices, or even city neighborhoods made it easier to sort mail by- machine or hand. Today ZIP Code are used to help shape everything from voting district to marketing campaigns."
It's a really great museum and if you're at all interested in mail, I highly recommend checking it out next time you're in DC.
All photos by Margaret Haas, 35 mm film.

1 comment:

  1. What a lovely museum! I hope to visit one day. The part about deciphering bad handwriting was interesting. I have a relative whose handwriting is so bad that when they filled out an application, it was returned with a note saying it needed to be in English not Arabic. Wonder if the postal employees could decipher that...



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