Background Information for Teachers
Nothing in America went unchanged by WWII. Those that remained at home found themselves taking on the responsibilities of civilians in wartime at every turn of their daily lives. Decisions that were once only personal – what to buy, what to eat, how to spend free time – now had global consequences. Even writing a letter and choosing a particular method for its delivery was promoted as an act of patriotism.
V-Mail, or Victory mail, was a valuable tool for the military during WWII. The process, which originated in England, involved the microfilming of specially designed letter sheets. Instead of using valuable cargo space to ship whole letters overseas, microfilmed copies were sent in their stead and then enlarged at an overseas destination before being delivered to military personnel. Thus, by using V-Mail or Victory mail civilians on the home front could assist in the potentially successful outcomes (Victory) of the war.
V-Mail ensured that thousands of tons of shipping space could be reserved for war materials. The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 ordinary, one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack of V-Mail microfilm with the same number of letters. The weight was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45.
The system of microfilming letters was based on the use of special V-Mail letter-sheets, which were a combination of letter and envelope. The 8 1/2” by 11” letter-sheets were created to fold and seal into a distinctively identifiable envelope that conformed to the required size and shape for processing. The user wrote the message in the limited space provided (7 7/8” wide by 7 3/8” high), added the name and address of the recipient, folded the form, affixed postage, if necessary, and mailed the letter. V-Mail correspondence was then reduced to thumb-nail size on microfilm. The rolls of film were sent to prescribed destinations for developing at a receiving station near the addressee. Finally, individual facsimiles of the letter-sheets were reproduced about one-quarter the original size (4 1/2” x 5 1/2”) and the miniature mail was then delivered to the addressee. (Download type-able V-Mail form)
Writers using V-Mail were encouraged through marketing campaigns and promotions to send brief notes regarding daily life, if a writer used a typewriter, the V-Mail form could still only accommodate 400-700 words. Contents might include the new roles and responsibilities the war imposed on the lives of civilians living at home in particular the effects how the United States mobilized its economic and military resources, the impact of the industrial boom on employment especially of women and minorities, the effects of WWII on gender roles and the American family, and the war’s impact on science, medicine, technology. V-Mail to and from soldiers often used pre-printed messages and cartoons with familiar and funny sentiments.
Image: relative sizes of each step in the V-Mail process; left to right: pre-printed letter sheet, 16 mm microfilm, photographic reprint of original letter.