Fire & Ice: Hindenburg and Titanic
Now - January 6, 2014
As the largest, fastest, and most glamorous ships of their eras, the Hindenburg and the Titanic share many similarities. The human tragedy associated with each stunned the world . . . a shock that affects people to this day. Both offered travelers elegant accommodations, and both provided postal services. In each era, the public trusted modern technology to provide safety and speed. And as anniversaries of the disasters are marked in 2012—75 years since Hindenburg burned and 100 since Titanic sank—many questions remain unanswered. Featured are more than 50 objects, including a rare piece of mail sent from the Titanic, keys from the Titanic post office, and burned mail and the salvaged postmark device from the wreckage of the Hindenburg.
Systems at Work
You drop a letter in a mailbox and then what happens? You receive mail at home or the office! But how does it get there? Find out in this exhibition that re-creates the paths of letters, magazines, parcels, and other mail as they travelled from sender to recipient over the last 200 years.
Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen anxiously awaiting mail delivery is a familiar scene from movies, newsreels, and documentary photographs. Mail call is the moment when the frontline and home front connect. This exhibition tells the history of military mail from the American Revolution to 2010: How does this mail reach its destination? What roles does it play? Why does it influence morale? The exhibition explores the great lengths taken to set up and operate postal services under extraordinary circumstances. It also features letters that reveal the expressions, emotions, and events of the time. On the battlefront and at home, mail provides a vital communication link between military service personnel, their communities, and their loved ones.
Pony Express: Romance vs. Reality
Binding the Nation, Lower Level
The legendary name of the Pony Express calls up thrilling images of horse and rider racing across treacherous terrain. Yet the actual Pony Express lasted for less than two years (April 1860 to October 1861). It owes its enduring fame to the romanticizing of the American West that began in the late 19th century. Pony Express riders have raced through Wild West shows and dime novels, comic books and movies. Pony Express: Romance vs. Reality examines fictional and actual stories from the history of the world's best known mail carriers.
Honoring Lincoln: Abraham Lincoln Certified Plate Proofs
Philatelic Gallery, Lower Level
Eleven certified plate proofs for postage stamps honoring Abraham Lincoln are on view in the Philatelic Gallery pullout frames. Certified plate proofs are the last printed proof of the plate before printing the stamps. These plate proofs are each unique, with the approval signatures and date. Issued from 1894 to 1959, the stamps feature a variety of Lincoln portraits.
Alphabetilately: An Alphabet of Philately
Now - January 31, 2014
Jeanette Cantrell Rudy Gallery, Lower Level
This exhibition presents an alphabet of philately through 26 topics, in which each letter stands for some aspect of stamp collecting or the sending of mail. From Advertising Covers to Zeppelins, each topic is introduced by a non-postage stamp image (called a Cinderella), designed by 26 designers in the San Francisco area. The 26 topics and their delightful definitions provide an ideal showcase for displaying both historical and modern items from the museum's collection.
Amelia Earhart's Personal Collection
Philatelic Gallery, Lower Level, Southwest
Amelia Earhart, the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, was an avid stamp and cover collector. On view are key pieces from her collection, including photographs and stamps commemorating her flights. She often flew signed pieces of mail that were then sold to philatelists to support her endeavors.
Postal Inspectors: The Silent Service
Binding the Nation, Lower Level, North
This exhibition spotlights the oldest federal law enforcement agency and its role in fighting crime from the earliest days of our nation to the present. Featured objects include the handcuffs used on Ted Kaczynski (the "Unabomber") when he was apprehended, a mail bomb, a Tommy gun, a detonator used in a 1923 train robbery, and a bio-hazard suit.
Hands-on learning activities
Binding the Nation
This gallery provides an overview of mail service in America from colonial times through the 19th century, stressing the importance of written communication in the young nation. As early as 1673, regular mail was carried between New York and Boston following Indian trails. That route, once known as the King's Best Highway, is now U.S. Route 1.
Benjamin Franklin, a colonial postmaster for the British government, played a key role in establishing mail service in the colonies, as well as in forging a strong link between colonial publishers and the postal service. Many newspapers that relied heavily on information carried in the mail customarily adopted the word "Post" into their title. Newspapers were so important to the dissemination of information to the people that they were granted cheaper postage rates.
By 1800, mail was carried over more than 9,000 miles of postal roads. The challenge of developing mail service over long distances is the central theme of "The Expanding Nation," which features the famed Pony Express and the Southern Postal Administration of the Civil War. At one interactive video station, visitors can create their own postal route. Another interactive video challenges visitors to move mail bags from Philadelphia to New Orleans in the 1850s without losing any bags in wrecks and bad weather.
Visitors are also invited to walk through a replica of the first post road, peek inside a Colonial mailbag, and climb into a mud wagon replica.
Customers and Communities
By the turn of the 20th century, nearly 10,000 letter carriers worked in over 400 cities. The nation's population was expanding at top speed, and with it, the nation's mail volume and the need for personal mail delivery. This gallery focuses on the modern changes in mail service introduced at the beginning of the 20th century in the following sections:
- Serving the Cities: Crowded cities inspired postal officials to experiment with a variety of mail delivery systems, such as the impressive but ultimately impractical underground pneumatic tubes. Home delivery of mail began in the cities during the Civil War, when postal officials decided it was inhumane to require soldier's families to receive death notices at post office windows.
- Reaching Rural America: As rural Americans watched city residents receive free home delivery, they began to demand equal treatment. This was the start of Rural Free Delivery. Facets of Rural Free Delivery and its important and often heart warming role in the fabric of the nation is explored with photographs, mail vehicles, and a variety of rural mailboxes. A more contentious argument at the turn of the century centered around Parcel Post Service. Because Parcel Post would allow goods to be sent through the mail, individuals would have access to more merchandise, and no longer would rely on local shopkeepers. Parcel Post helped to usher in an era of consumerism by the early 20th century that foreshadowed the massive mechanization and automation of mail and the mail-order industry. Today, mail service is a vital conduit for big business.
U.S. & International Stamp Galleries, Lower Level
The history of the stamp begins in 1840, when Great Britain issued the first gummed postage stamp. Since then stamps of every subject, shape, and design have been produced for consumer use or as collectibles. Some stamps tell stories while others contain secrets and hidden meanings. This gallery is for all collectors, as well as for those who know little about the renowned hobby of philately.
With over 13 million philatelic objects in the museum's collection, this gallery features the Rarities Vault, the National Stamp Collection (housed in pull-out cases), and changing and rotating exhibitions (see On View). The section More American Stamps, which opened Oct. 12, 1997, features a selection of more than 55,000 American stamp, rotated every six months.
Moving the Mail
Faced with the challenge of moving the mail quickly, the postal service looked to trains, automobiles, airplanes, and buses to deliver the mail, all of which are the focus of the museum's 90-foot-high Atrium gallery.
- Mail by Rail: After the Civil War, postal officials began to take advantage of railway trains for moving and sorting the mail. Sorting the mail while it was being carried between towns was a revolutionary approach to mail delivery, involving generations of devoted postal employees who worked as railway mail clerks.
- Owney: Mascot of the Railway Mail Service Owney was a stray mutt who wandered into the Albany, New York, post office in 1888. He began to ride with the bags on trains across the state--and then the country. In 1895 Owney traveled with mailbags on steamships to Asia and across Europe before returning to Albany. He was beloved by Railway Mail Service clerks, who adopted him as their unofficial mascot.
- Networking a Nation: Star Route Service: Some of the most ambitious movers of the mail were not railway mail clerks, aviators, or even postal employees, but were Star Route contractors. Star Routes were established in 1845 when the Postal Service began hiring contractors to use the most appropriate and efficient methods of transportation to carry the mail. The name "Star Routes" came about because postal clerks became weary of writing "Celerity, Certainty, and Security" over and over again in the contract books and began using "***" instead. These routes have been covered by all modes of transportation from stagecoaches, trucks, and planes to less conventional means, such as dog sleds, showshoes, and bare feet. "Star Routes" were renamed "Highway Contract Routes" in 1970, but are still known by their original name today. On view are a 1850s Concord-style stagecoach and a full-size semi truck cab-cutaway.
- On the Road: Motorizing the Mail: This section discusses the evolution of mail vehicles starting with the first tests in 1899 to the present. With the introduction of Parcel Post Service in 1913, these vehicles brought millions of packages into the mail stream for the first time. Despite numerous challenges over the years, motorized mail has undergone numerous improvements to dramatically increase efficiency in delivering the mail. In the early 1980s, after years of study and testing, another generation of postal trucks was introduced -- nicknamed Long Life Vehicles -- which quickly became familiar sights in American neighborhoods. On view are a 1931 Model A Ford Parcel Post truck and a contemporary Long Life Vehicle mail truck.
- Airmail Service in America: Airmail service was the base from which America's commercial aviation industry developed. This section of the exhibition examines this critical role of the postal service and features the airmail service established in 1918 between New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C., through the remarkable pioneering flights of pilots Torrey Webb, James Edgerton, H. Paul Culver, and George Boyle. On view are a 1911 Wiseman-Cooke biplane, a 1919 de Havilland DH-4B, and a 1936 Stinson Reliant SR-10.