Look at this image of Union Station and the the National Postal Museum, located in Washington, D.C. Do you notice any similarities between the two buildings? Both buildings were designed by Chicago architect Daniel H. Burnham. Mail and railways had a special relationship, with most mail arriving by train in 1914, the close proximity of the two buildings would allow mail to be quickly transferred to the post office via a bridge over 1st Street NE that still exists today. The building on the left was officially opened to the Washington, D.C. public as their new city post office on September 28, 1914. On July 30, 1993, it opened anew as the Smithsonian’s new National Postal Museum.
Originally constructed in the grand Beaux-Arts style of the early 20th century, the Historic Lobby underwent significant changes in the 1950s as part of an effort to modernize the building. While the new dropped ceiling and Formica counters were considered an architectural eyesore to many, it was not until after the city’s central mail operations moved out of the building in 1986 that restoration of the historic lobby to its original design began. Want to learn more about the building? Check out the building's history!
This is the view inside the former office of the Washington, DC Postmaster at the west end of the Historic Lobby. Now restored to its original grandeur, the office housed the postmaster at work while postal operations carried on throughout the building. But the marble fireplace isn’t the only original piece in the room. A locked safe is hidden next to the fireplace by a discrete door in the paneling. You can see a vault door from one of the building’s original safes on display in the Behind the Badge exhibition online.
Recognize any of the stamps in the museum windows? Fifty-four stamps were chosen for this special installation for their representation of American history. In addition to providing a colorful backdrop to the museum, the installation helps protect the museum’s collections from outside light. Inside, some stamps, like the original artwork of the 2011 USPS’ Neon Celebrate! Forever stamp, can also be found hanging on the walls!
Check out this post office located in Dillsburg, PA that was in operation from 1913 to 1971. Both the Dillsburg office and the Washington, DC Post Office were opened in the early twentieth century and closed about seventy years later. And yet, the two post offices couldn’t be more different. How did the needs of the main DC Post Office differ from that of the small town rural post office from Dillsburg, Pennsylvania? How does your neighborhood post office compare?
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