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: V-Mail letter sheet with Mother’s Day greeting. V-Mail letter sheet with instructions in yellow ink.
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Operating V-Mail

The Post Office, War, and Navy Departments worked together to ensure V-Mail for civilians and service members around the world. Numerous personnel, expensive pieces of equipment, photographic supplies, ships, and planes were needed to process and deliver V-Mail. The volume of mail and supplies was such that all three departments were needed to keep the network operational and keep the mail moving.

The Post Office Department was responsible for domestic dispatch and handling of mail. The Post Office sorted V-Mail by respective Army and Navy post offices and delivered it to the V-Mail stations in the United States. Postal authorities divided the continental U.S. into three regions and funneled the incoming and outgoing V-Mail to three facilities: New York, San Francisco, and Chicago. At the ports of embarkation the War and Navy Departments took over postal duties and Kodak ran the V-Mail photography operations. The military was responsible for the transportation of mail destined for overseas personnel. Getting V-Mail to and from the field depended upon a network of V-Mail plants at key locations in the European and Pacific theaters.

Listen to military postal clerks in the field in the radio segment “4th Marine Division post office on Iwo Jima,” recorded on February 21, 1945. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (Marine Corps Combat Recordings LWO 5442 r3B5.

wav (64MB)| wma (3MB)| mp3 (4.3MB)

Transcript of audio available.

Technology was the linchpin in this inter-agency, international network. At the center was the Recordak machine that was initially developed by the Eastman Kodak Company for bank records. The microphotography equipment was designed for ease of use and mass production of recorded materials. Great Britain’s Airgraph Service relied on Kodak for shrinking letters onto microfilm for shipment. Following that lead, the U.S. War Department entered into a contract with the Eastman Kodak Company on May 8, 1942 to use Recordak machines to process V-Mail.

Kodak coordinated the photographic operations in the continental U.S. When it came to the far-flung overseas V-Mail stations, the processing was in the hands of the U.S. military. There, staff relied on the Recordak’s straight-forward design and function to process mail quickly. Captain James Hudson, trained by Eastman Kodak Company, operated V-Mail in Cairo, Egypt, described the machine’s actions:

“It accepted a stack of regular size sheets of paper, about 8 x 11, and fed them one at a time through this machine that was about the size of a small chest of drawers, or today’s paper copier. Cleverly, a light scanned the sheet through a narrow, transverse slot and exposed one frame of a 16 mm motion picture film that was synchronized with it, so that one tiny frame had the image of the full sheet of paper. For those days, that was a lot of compression and tremendous synchronization to make it happen. Kodak gets all the credit for that innovation” (Hudson 29).


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