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Mail sack

National Postal Museum
This style of domestic mail sack was used in the mid-twentieth century to dispatch magazines, circulars, and flyers.

Reference:

Mail Bag Equipment Catalog. Published by the Post Office Department. March, 1960.

Mail tray

National Postal Museum
Mail processing plants used four-sided plastic letter trays, such as this, in the 1970s, 80s and 90s for both manual and mechanized letter mail sortation. The tray is made of solid, crack- and shatter-resistant plastic and has red directional arrows painted on either long side with raised "1/4" and "1/2" red markers on its floor. Handholds at either end, imprinted in the mold with "Property of U. S. Post Office Department," facilitate manual handling. One side of this tray is stamped in black ink “DI Corp. / Anniston, Alabama / 1980 May / USPS Contract No. 104230-80-V-0660 / USPS Item No. 1254 / Material: PPO.” The tray is 26 inches long, 12-5/8 inches wide, 4 inches deep and weighs 4 pounds. Its capacity is 20 pounds or the equivalent of 2 feet of letter mail.

The plastic tray is well suited for mail preparation, mail transport and mail staging because of its large capacity, deep sidewalls, and its ability to remain stable and stackable when full. Letter mail is unbanded, faced, and placed vertically -- with the stamp away from the handler in the trays. Full trays are moved to the LSM (Letter Sorting Machine) or manual distribution areas. Used primarily in the processing plant, such trays were also loaned to mailers for mail preparation.

Mail pouch

National Postal Museum
This leather mail pouch has a metal hinged opening with interlocking components. There are remnants of twine and possibly an old attached Post Office Department or museum label inside.

Mail pouch

National Postal Museum
This leather mail pouch closes with a metal and leather interlocking mechanism.

Mail pouch

National Postal Museum
This is a Post Office Department sample of the style of U.S. domestic mail pouch used to dispatch first-class and registered mail during the 1920s and 1930s. There is no additional information on this pouch.

Reference:

Mail Bag Equipment Catalog. Published by the Post Office Department. March, 1960.

Mail sack

National Postal Museum
The "R.R.B." printed on this sack is the abbreviation for Rail Road Business. Railroad business mail handled in the baggage car did not pass through U. S. Post Offices. Instead, it was dispatched solely between railroad offices. Only matter pertaining to railroad business transactions and operations was permitted; no personal correspondence was allowed because that was prohibited by the Private Express Statute.

The right of railroads to transport and distribute their own mail outside of the Post Office Department/Postal Service was provided an exemption from the Private Express Statute. The Private Express Statute of 1845 and the Postal Code of 1872 otherwise ceded exclusive rights for handling first and third-class mail to the federal government.

R.R.B. mail was handled in a passenger train's baggage car. The baggage car was often located behind express and mail cars and ahead of the passenger-carrying cars. The railroad employee in charge of the car was called the "baggageman" or "Baggage Master." In addition to looking after the passenger luggage and corpses, the baggageman also received, sorted and distributed the railroad company's business mail passing between railway officers and agents.

Mail lock

National Postal Museum
Brass lock developed by Eagle Lock Company of Terryville CT. The front of the shackle was stamped "U.S. MAIL" by the manufacturer. “EAGLE LOCK CO. TERRYVILLE, CONN." was stamped above the keyhole in an arc over “PAT’D” over “1863 & 1870.”

This lock is an updated version of the older Star Route registered mail lock also manufactured by the Eagle Lock Company based on patent number 104,572. There are differences between this lock and the earlier versions. On this lock the front and back are heavy brass plates, and the earlier locks were thinner metal that formed two halves. The shackle on this version is heavier. Like some of the Star Route locks, this one has the offset double-bit keyhole. This allowed some security in that keys from the older design would not work this lock.

This is a heavy, well made lock. Because it provided more security than the more common locks, it was probably used for securing registered mail or on longer or more important routes.

References:

U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

“Early Locks and Lockmakers of America,” by Thomas F. Hennessy, Nickerson & Collins Publishing Co., Second Edition, 1976.

“Illustrated Catalog and Price List of Padlocks Manufactured by Eagle Lock Company,” 1905.

Mail pouch

National Postal Museum
This US mail pouch, stamped with the date "1948," was used by a military postal service. Stenciled with the words "U.S. Mail Bag," the body of the bag is olive green cotton with a stitched leather closure and base. One handle is attached to the back of the mailbag, while the front leather band has five grommet holes through which rings from the interior protrude. A leather strap hangs down from the left side, which slides through each ring and is then locked to secure the mail. There is also one grommeted metal ring on the top of the back of the bag.

Pouches, as opposed to sacks, are generally made of a heavy canvas, locked with special postal locks, and closed using a leather strap and ring configuration. Pouches are used to carry first class, domestic, or military mail. The leather strap cinches the top of the pouch through the grommeted rings. The strap is then locked using special postal locks. Through-registered pouches, however, carry locked inner-registered sacks of registered mail. The straps on those pouches are buckled and then locked.

Mail pouch

National Postal Museum
This US mail pouch, attributed to 1943, was used by a military postal service. Stenciled with the words "U.S. Mail Bag," the body of the bag is olive green cotton with a stitched leather closure and base. One handle is attached to the back of the mailbag, while the front leather band has five grommet holes through which rings from the interior protrude. A leather strap hangs down from the left side, which slides through each ring and is then locked to secure the mail. There is also one grommeted metal ring on the top of the back of the bag.

Pouches, as opposed to sacks, are generally made of a heavy canvas, locked with special postal locks, and closed using a leather strap and ring configuration. Pouches are used to carry first class, domestic, or military mail. The leather strap cinches the top of the pouch through the grommeted rings. The strap is then locked using special postal locks. Through-registered pouches, however, carry locked inner-registered sacks of registered mail. The straps on those pouches are buckled and then locked.

Mail pouch

National Postal Museum
This 1940s era US mail pouch, stamped with "6HQ Messenger Service Signal Corps," was used by a military messenger service. The body of the bag is army green cotton with a stitched leather closure and base. One handle is attached to the back of the mailbag, while the front leather band has five grommet holes through which rings from the interior protrude. A leather strap hangs down from the left side, which slides through each ring and is then locked to secure the mail. There is also one grommeted metal ring on the top left corner of the back of the bag.

Pouches, as opposed to sacks, are generally made of a heavy canvas, locked with special postal locks, and closed using a leather strap and ring configuration. Pouches are used to carry first class, domestic, or military mail. The leather strap cinches the top of the pouch through the grommeted rings. The strap is then locked using special postal locks. Through-registered pouches, however, carry locked inner-registered sacks of registered mail. The straps on those pouches are buckled and then locked.

container, mail

National Museum of American History

Victory Mail

National Postal Museum
A short, 1944 newsreel describing V-Mail produced by the Office of War Information. Read more at: http://npm.si.edu/victorymail Transcript: Letters from home; each day millions of them are sent to American servicemen fighting on distant battle fronts. Because a war postal system called V--mail, they can be flown throughout the world reaching distant points safely and with amazing speed. This plane is landing in Italy. Each bag of mail it carries contains 136 thousand letters. Back in America, each letter was reduced to a tiny strip of film. Now near the front, automatic machines and enlarge each overseas letter from sixteen millimeter motion picture negative to a four by five inch print. These strips are dried, carefully inspected and cut into individual letters. Machines fold them and put them into envelopes. In this one laboratory over three hundred thousand letters a day are handled. A complete locator card system takes care of mail incorrectly addressed. In the censorship section, anything that might reveal vital military information is cut out. At mail call, Americans overseas receive their letters. Nearly every transport plane that spans the ocean brings its quota of mail. In just a few days, V-mail letters from home reach serviceman in every theater of war.

Auxiliary handstamp, PRIORITY MAIL

National Postal Museum
Priority Mail was established as a sub-class of First Class in 1968. It provided for handling of parcels more than two pounds with an accelerated service. This auxillary marking handstamp was used to designate a parcel that was mailed at this rate.

A handwritten, paper label reading "PM" is taped to top of handle. Black ink stains appear over the base.

Railway mail catcher pouch

National Postal Museum
This “catcher” pouch was used by Railway Post Offices (RPOs) in exchanging mail with stations where the train did not stop. The pouch was hung on a trackside "mail crane" and snagged from the crane by an steel rod "catcher arm" that was mounted in the RPO's doorway.

Catcher pouches are all one size and made of canvas strengthened by leather bindings around the rounded top. A leather strap buckled around the center so that it would form an hour-glass shape. A pouch lock secured the leather strap closing its neck. Both ends of the pouch had a steel ring attached. The leather-reinforced end was clipped onto the upper mail crane bracket and the locked-end was fastened to the bottom bracket.

This pouch was made in October 1963 at the Mail Equipment Shops, Washington, DC. This was close to the end of manufacturing for this pouch style. RPO routes were being discontinued throughout the 1960s.

V-Mail microphotograph

National Postal Museum
This portion of single-perforated 16 mm V-Mail microfilm has two rectangular perforations with rounded corners. The Kodak edge code of a circle followed by a triangle denotes the film reel was manufactured in 1943. The piece contains the negative image of one V-Mail letter written on April 1, 1944 by Pfc. Franklin E. Shue of the 456th AAA Battalion sent from APO 552 (Plympton, England) to Miss Laurine Gregory of Riddleton, Tennessee.

The Post Office, War and Navy Departments contracted with Kodak for microfilming services during World War II for the V-Mail service. Capturing images of personal letters on 16 mm microfilm helped reduce the strain that the high volume of mail placed on overseas shipping. Transporting reels of microfilm to be reproduced near the addressees’ location lightened the load, freed up cargo space for other supplies, and expedited the mail via air transport.

Chain Mail Fragments

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

V-Mail microfilm strip

National Postal Museum
This portion of single-perforated 16 mm V-Mail microfilm has 20 rectangular perforations with rounded corners. The Kodak edge code of a square followed by a circle denotes the film reel was manufactured in 1945. This strip of microfilm contains the images of nine V-Mail letters written between October 9 and 11, 1945 by various civilians from Washington, DC; New York, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Illinois. These letters were addressed to naval service members with San Francisco Fleet Post Office numbers. The first letter is written by Mrs. India A. Thompson, Truth Hall, Howard University, Washington, DC, to her husband M.W. Thompson in the US Navy. The ninth letter addressed to George S. Bott with the US Navy was sent by Miss M. J. Handzes of New York and includes a line drawing of a groom carrying a bride over a threshold with a baby in a basket and a typed caption: "ADVICE TO PEOPLE WHO PREFER THE EASY WAY."

The Post Office, War and Navy Departments contracted with Kodak for microfilming services during World War II for the V-Mail service. Capturing images of personal letters on 16 mm microfilm helped reduce the strain that the high volume of mail placed on overseas shipping. Transporting reels of microfilm to be reproduced near the addressees’ location lightened the load, freed up cargo space for other supplies, and expedited the mail via air transport.

Managed mail tray and sleeve

National Postal Museum
Currently in use at the U.S. Postal Service, the managed mail (MM) tray and sleeve are constructed of 3/16 inch corrugated fiberboard. Their combined tare weight is 1.8 pounds. Full trays accommodate an average of 600 First Class or 450 bulk business letters, which include letters pre-sorted by business mailers. The tray is marked "Label Other End" and "U.S. Mail". The sleeve is marked on top with the U.S. Postal Service logo and on the sides with "Property of U.S. Postal Service."

The USPS designed MM trays and sleeves to provide a more efficient means of dispatching letter-size mail. Although these trays have a relatively short service life (up to 20 uses), they are much lighter than plastic trays, which saves in mail transportation costs, especially air transport.

The corrugated cardboard tray (1984.0693.2.1) is used in tandem with the managed mail tray sleeve (1984.0693.2.2) to handle large volume mailings. The tray slides into the sleeve, which protects the mail and makes the units stackable. Letter trays that will travel by contract carrier (as opposed to USPS owned transportation) are sleeved, and then a single plastic strap is placed lengthwise around the tray and sleeve to provide security. Trays transported by USPS transportation are not strapped.

Chain mail

National Museum of African Art
Shirt of linked circular mail, cut hight in front and back.

Transorma mail sorting machine sign

National Postal Museum
One of the ongoing challenges of the Post Office Department over the course of the twentieth century was sorting an ever-increasing mail volume. The Department took a step towards solving this problem on April 10, 1957, with the installation of the first semiautomatic sorting machine at the Blair Post Office in Silver Spring, Maryland.

Standing thirteen feet high, the Transorma Letter Sorting Machine consisted of upper and lower sections separated by a platform that surrounded the entire machine. A conveyor belt transported mail from the lower level to one of five operators sitting in front of sorting keyboards on the upper level. The operators read the destination and keyed a sorting code. The letter was then automatically transferred to a letter tray and deposited into one of 300 chutes that returned the mail neatly stacked to the lower level. At full operation with five keyboard operators, the Transorma could sort 15,000 letters per hour, double the amount that the same number of clerks could do by hand.

The Transorma was manufactured by the Dutch company Werkspoor and distributed in the United States by Pitney-Bowes. The name of the machine comes from combing the words Transportation and Sorting with the first initials of the machine's Dutch inventors, Marchand and Andriesen.

The Transorma proved the potential for expediting mail processing at a reduced cost, but it also showed the limitations of semi-automatic machinery. Today Optical Character Readers automatically sort the vast majority of the letters in the U.S. mail stream without any human interaction.

A public art installation titled Transorma/Transforma now stands on the site of the former Blair Post Office. Large stainless steel gazing balls mark a winding path through an outdoor arcade that suggests the modern machine parts of the first semiautomatic mail sorting in the United States.

A collecting note:

A synecdoche is a figure of speech that substitutes a part for the whole, such as using "hand" for worker or "wheels" for car. Museums frequently use a variation of this rhetorical device in their collecting practices. When it is impractical to collect an entire artifact due to space constraints, museums may collect only a part of the larger artifact. In the case of the Transorma, the 15-ton machine was too large to fit in the National Postal Museum's galleries, so curators collected two signs. The signs are a starting point - supplemented by photographs, oral histories, and other artifacts - to tell the story of postal automation.

Reference:

Operation and Maintenance Manual: TRANSORMA Letter Sorting Machine. Pitney-Bowes and Werkspoor. Stamford, Connecticut.

The Postmaster General Reports on the Services of the United States Post Office Department during Fiscal Year 1957.

Sanitized mail

National Postal Museum
Brown burn spots and discoloration of this cover are the effects of the irradiation process implemented by the US Postal Service in October 2001. This irradiated cover is addressed to Ms. Esther Washington, from the Singapore Philatelic Society, and dated December 1, 2001. It is marked "MAIL SANITIZED."

There is correspondence inside the cover, but the cover has never been opened.

The practice of irradiating mail was initiated for all Washington, DC, Federal offices, following incidences of anthrax-contaminated mail being received by the US federal government, American Media Inc., and the National Broadcast Company (NBC). The anthrax attacks killed five people and made 17 others ill.

Mail addressed to the National Postal Museum is decontaminated at the irradiation facility run by Titan Industries in Lima, Ohio. Although the irradiation process is effective against eliminating biological threats, it has drawbacks. The process is expensive and slows delivery. Additionally, it can damage mail pieces, such as discoloring paper and burning film and photographs.

Reference:

Nakashima, Ellen. “Postal service may end irradiation” Washington Post. December 4 2001. p. A23.

Cole, Leonard A., Anthrax Letters, A Medical Detective Story. Washington DC: Joseph Henry press, 2001.

Mail Bag

National Air and Space Museum
Fabric mail bag marked "U.S. Mail, 1., Foreign."; size 56cm x 61cm.

Air Mail Bag

Early air mail was placed in heavy canvas bags and carried inside a special compartment in front of the pilot on most mail planes

Coat Of Chain-Mail

NMNH - Anthropology Dept.

Air Mail

National Air and Space Museum
AIR MAIL Multicolor air mail print. Woman reaches up two air mail planes flying amidst billowing clouds and dramatic sky; work is the original artwork from which posters were made. Original Painting.

Fly Now: The National Air and Space Museum Poster Collection

Throughout their history, posters have been a significant means of mass communication, often with striking visual effect. Wendy Wick Reaves, the Smithsonian Portrait Gallery Curator of Prints and Drawings, comments that "sometimes a pictorial poster is a decorative masterpiece-something I can't walk by without a jolt of aesthetic pleasure. Another might strike me as extremely clever advertising … But collectively, these 'pictures of persuasion,' as we might call them, offer a wealth of art, history, design, and popular culture for us to understand. The poster is a familiar part of our world, and we intuitively understand its role as propaganda, promotion, announcement, or advertisement."

Reaves' observations are especially relevant for the impressive array of aviation posters in the National Air and Space Museum's 1300+ artifact collection. Quite possibly the largest publicly-held collection of its kind in the United States, the National Air and Space Museum's posters focus primarily on advertising for aviation-related products and activities. Among other areas, the collection includes 19th-century ballooning exhibition posters, early 20th-century airplane exhibition and meet posters, and twentieth-century airline advertisements.

The posters in the collection represent printing technologies that include original lithography, silkscreen, photolithography, and computer-generated imagery. The collection is significant both for its aesthetic value and because it is a unique representation of the cultural, commercial and military history of aviation. The collection represents an intense interest in flight, both public and private, during a significant period of its technological and social development.
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