An unidentified delegate wore this impressive light-blue ribbon and metal badge to the 1911 National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) convention. America’s letter carriers were the first postal workers to form a union. They founded the National Association of Letter Carriers on August 30, 1889.
The convention was held in Rochester, New York that September and was the organization’s 18th meeting. National conventions were an opportunity for workers to celebrate their craft with others from across the country, listen to (hopefully) inspiring speeches from union leaders, and demonstrate the group’s size and strength to the nation and its political leaders.
According to the New York Sun, this convention was 5,000-carriers strong, and included delegations from “New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Omaha, Denver and a dozen or more of the largest cities in the country.”(1) The carriers were led down Rochester streets by a number of letter carrier bands(2) playing celebratory tunes. The union had come a long way since its establishment by 60 carriers meeting above a saloon in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Badges such as this not only identified the level of particular attendees, (a delegate in this case) but also served to inspire carriers with the history of their association. The shield and bar holding the badge includes the city and date of the convention and is topped by thirteen stars for the original colonies. The bottom of the shield design features a series of stripes, completing the flag motif.
The major portion of the badge design is suspended from the ribbon. It features an eagle holding the NALC’s self-identifying symbol. The image of a hand holding a stamped letter addressed to “U.S.A.” dates to 1891. The union’s icon is surrounded by triumphant laurel leaves and a ribbon noting that this was issued for the “eighteenth convention.” The bottom circle duplicates Rochester’s city seal. The badge was manufactured by Whitehead & Hoag, a Newark, NJ company operated by Benjamin S. Whitehead and Chester R. Hoag. Their company created a wide variety of items, including buttons, banners, flags, and of course badges.
In July 2014 the National Association of Letter Carriers celebrated the 125th anniversary of the union.
Written by Nancy A. Pope