The national collection illustrates and invites research into United States philately and postal operations. It contains prestigious postal issues and specialized collections, archival postal documents and three-dimensional objects that trace the evolution of the postal services.
The National Postal Museum is divided into galleries that explore America's postal history from colonial times to the present. Visitors learn how mail has been transported and the wondrous diversity of postage stamps.
The Museum supports a wide variety of interdisciplinary research projects which address topics of importance such as current and future postal operations, as well as philatelic and postal history. Our efforts are a resource and point of reference for research and wider investigation by historians throughout the United States and the world.
The National Postal Museum is divided into galleries that explore America's postal history from colonial times to the present. Visitors learn how mail has been transported, emphasize the importance of letters, and spotlight the creation and wondrous diversity of postage stamps.
None Swifter Than These: 100 Years of Diplomatic Couriers
September 14, 2019 – January 26, 2020
In wartime and peacetime, the U.S. Diplomatic Courier Service carries the sensitive materials, equipment and information that make diplomacy possible. The U.S. Diplomatic Courier Service traces its origins to the U.S. Army courier detachment, established at the U.S. Embassy in Paris in December 1918 to support the American Commission to Negotiate Peace at the end of World War I. A century later, the Department of State's 100 badged diplomatic couriers travel the globe safeguarding our nation's most sensitive information and materials. Today's diplomatic couriers constantly trouble-shoot and innovate to ensure secure logistic supply chains while supervising the delivery of classified equipment and documents, as well as secure construction materials to nearly every nation where U.S. diplomats work. The exhibition was developed by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Security Service.
Behind the Badge explores the mission and duty of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the law enforcement arm of the Postal Service. The exhibit examines the inspection service’s history and work through some of its most famous and remarkable cases. Visitors learn how the service helps protect them, sharing tips to guard against scams and fraud.
William H. Gross, the founder of PIMCO and a stamp collector, has donated $10 million to the National Postal Museum to create a new 12,000-square-foot gallery that was named in his honor. The gallery opened on September 22, 2013.
As visitors step into this introductory gallery, a display of oversized stamps and video monitors grabs their attention. Video images bring stamps to life and pique curiosity through questions that are answered as visitors explore the surrounding displays.
Visitors encounter the world’s first postage stamp—the 1840 Penny Black, with its profile of young Queen Victoria—and learn how it revolutionized communication. Stamp images—including the Nicaraguan volcano that influenced the location of the Panama Canal, Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the top–selling 1993 Elvis! stamp, and the stamp that helped raise almost $72 million dollars for breast cancer research—illustrate how stamps have shaped history and honored people and places worldwide.
In this dramatically lit space, visitors have the privilege of examining 13 of the most rare and highly valued gems in the world of philately—including the most famous U.S. stamp of all, the 1918 Inverted Jenny. An immersive video explains why the Inverted Jenny and other stamps displayed here are philatelic gems.
The treasures in this area are rarely available for public viewing. Each tells a story about a significant milestone in U.S. history—from one of the surviving revenue stamp proofs of the 1765 Stamp Act that so infuriated the American colonists, to a lunar mail cover postmarked on the Moon by astronaut Dave Scott in 1971.
The markings on mail provide valuable clues to the surprising ways mail has been transported over time, including challenges and even disasters encountered along the way. Visitors learn to decipher these markings through an interactive experience in which they trace the journeys of three historic letters by analyzing different kinds of mail markings.
At wall displays supplemented by exhibit frames, visitors investigate markings on mail transported on land and across seas, by air and in space. Among the many historic artifacts on view are a 1390 Silk Road letter, a letter mailed aboard Titanic during its first and only voyage, Amelia Earhart’s brown leather flight suit, a mailbox remnant from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, and a mailbox from 9-11.
In this highly interactive area, visitors are immersed in examples of how stamp content, design, and production have changed over time and how modern U.S. stamps reflect the nation’s identity. Here, too, visitors explore their own connections with stamps. At three touchscreen tables, they sort through the National Postal Museum’s collection and create their own stamp collection based on the topics that interest them most. Nearby are stations where visitors can create their own stamp designs.
Visitors also have the chance to view videos in which stamp designers talk about their craft, stamp collectors explain what they collect and why, and footage shows how stamps are produced.
Here, philatelists and other interested visitors have access to some of the great U.S. collections owned by the National Postal Museum or on loan from other institutions. 275 pullout frames display tens of thousands of stamps and pieces of mail from the National Philatelic Collection along with the Postmaster General’s and Benjamin K. Miller collections. A large case displays medals, handstamps, dies, and other historic artifacts from the National Philatelic Collection.
A touchscreen interactive links visitors to the National Postal Museum’s online research database, Arago, enabling them to easily find more information about the stamps and mail that interest them.
International stamps make up more than half of the National Postal Museum’s collections. At interactive displays flanking a large globe, visitors explore examples of how stamps reflect their countries of origin and connect people, places, and cultures worldwide.
One display showcases some of the most scarce and famous stamps from 24 countries on six continents. Nearby, 50 pullout frames present more than 700 stamps—one from every country that has ever produced stamps, including many countries that no longer exist.
Other pullout frames feature changing displays of stamps from the museum’s international vaults, encouraging visitors to return and sample more of the diversity of these vast collections.
You drop a letter in a mailbox and then what happens? You receive mail at home or the office—how does it get there? The answer to these questions unfolds in Systems at Work, a permanent exhibition at the National Postal Museum. Systems at Work recreates the paths of letters, magazines, parcels, and other mail as they travel from sender to recipient over the last 200 years.
Soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen anxiously awaiting mail delivery is a familiar scene from movies, newsreels, and documentary photographs. Mail call is the moment when the frontline and home front connect. This exhibition tells the history of military mail from the American Revolution to 2010: How does this mail reach its destination? What roles does it play? Why does it influence morale? The exhibition explores the great lengths taken to set up and operate postal services under extraordinary circumstances. It also features letters that reveal the expressions, emotions, and events of the time. On the battlefront and at home, mail provides a vital communication link between military service personnel, their communities, and their loved ones.
This exhibition explores Star Routes -- a new mail service established in 1845 when the Postal Service began hiring contractors to use the most appropriate and efficient methods of transportation to carry the mail.
Featuring a 1931 Model A Ford Parcel Post truck and a contemporary Long Life Vehicle mail truck, this exhibition explores the history of city mail vehicles -- from the first tests in 1899 to the present.
The Railway Mail Service revolutionized the way mail was processed by sorting mail aboard moving trains. The National Postal Museum re-created a railway mail train in its Atrium. The interior fixtures is from a de-commissioned mail car. The exterior portion of the Railway Post Office train was created by Smithsonian artisans.