An Exhibit at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum
Smithsonian National Postal Museum
The Silent Service
Postal Crime
Silent but Effective
Robbing the Mail
Unexpected Duties
One Step Ahead
White Powder
Bombs in the Mail
You Solve the Case
Don't Be a Victim
In Memoriam
Protecting You Now

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Fighting crime is often dangerous and violent. Postal inspectors are trained in a variety of investigative techniques and procedures, including the use of weapons. The Postal Inspection Service became the first law enforcement agency to purchase the Thompson submachine gun, commonly known as the “Tommy Gun,” to fight crime.

On loan from the United States Postal Inspection Service


A wide variety of duties and crimes have come across the desks of America’s postal inspectors. They have been assigned to help protect or escort valuable or significant mail items. They have worked alone, or on specially-created task forces to protect not only the mail, but also the nation’s trust in the postal system.


FDR's Mailbag
FDR's mailbag
FDR's mailbag

click to enlarge

Inspector Herbert Theurer holding the White House mailbag
Inspector Herbert Theurer holding the White House mailbag

click to enlarge

One of the most unusual postal inspector assignments was in the mid-twentieth century when individual inspectors were assigned to the White House. When the President left the White House, the assigned inspector traveled with him. Travel duties included overseeing the dispatch, delivery and protection of the President’s mail, using a specially-assigned White House mailbag.

On May 1, 1937, Postal Inspector Herbert G. Theurer carried this mailbag from the Galvez Hotel in Galveston, Texas, where President Franklin Roosevelt was staying while on vacation. Theurer hand carried the bag and its contents to Roosevelt who was enjoying some offshore fishing aboard the presidential yacht Potomac.

Image (top): FDR's mailbag. On loan from the United States Postal Service
Image (bottom): Inspector Herbert Theurer posed for this photograph with the White House mailbag. Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection

  Inspectors and Diamonds  
Inspectors and gun for Lesotho Diamond
Inspectors and gun for Lesotho Diamond
Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection

click to enlarge
Hope Diamond wrapper
Hope Diamond wrapper

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Image: Inspectors and gun for Lesotho Diamond. Courtesy of the Ron J. Pry Historical Collection

Jeweler Harry Winston purchased the Lesotho Diamond in 1967. The 601-carat gem was sent by registered mail to Winston’s New York City store. U.S. postal inspectors Ralph Espina (left), LeRoy Kingsland (right), and George Ross escorted the diamond from the arriving Swissair flight to the main city post office. Kingsland was armed with a Thompson submachine gun. Espina carried the diamond in a satchel attached by handcuffs to one wrist and a shotgun in his other hand. The diamond spent the night under lock and key in the post office registry section before being picked up the next day by the jewelers.

Image: Hope Diamond wrapper

In November 1958, American jeweler Harry Winston donated the Hope diamond to the Smithsonian Institution. The exquisite blue diamond was placed in this package and sent by registered mail. Postal inspectors ensured that the gem arrived safely. In Washington, it was immediately taken to the City Post Office (then located in this building), where it was picked up and delivered by postal carrier James G. Todd. The price paid for shipping the gem, valued at $1 million at the time, was $145.29, most of that for package’s insurance.

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