Museum Highlights

The Museum's galleries explore America's postal history and philately from colonial times to the present. Here are just a few examples of what you'll see in the museum.

Location: 
Atrium

In 1921, army navigational beacons between Columbus and Dayton, Ohio, guided pilots at night. The Post Office took over the system in 1922 and by the end of 1923, had constructed similar beacons between Chicago, Illinois and Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Location: 
Customers and Communities

By the 1850s, adhesive postage stamps were available, and people no longer needed to go to the post office to mail letters. They could keep stamps at home and mail letters at their leisure. So the Post Office Department began to build and install mailboxes throughout U.S. cities.

Location: 
Atrium

Concord-style mail coaches first appeared in the 1820s and remained in use into the early 1900s. After 1845, federal law prohibited the Post Office Department from awarding extra fees to stagecoach contractors. Horseback riders soon replaced many of the stagecoaches.

Location: 
Customers and Communities

Until 1916, Americans were not required to have household letter boxes. Letter carriers handed over the mail personally, ringing the bell twice to signal that the mail was there, or knocking. Door knockers like this one saved wear and tear on the knuckles.

Location: 
Atrium

As railroad service to many small towns declined from the 1940s to the 1960s, the Post Office Department turned to busses to ensure that these communities would get their mail. The museum's Highway Post Office Service bus is not on display in the museum but some mail delivered by Highway Post Office buses is on display. It's located on the panel just outside the Railway Mail Service car, near Owney.

Location: 
Atrium

The Railway Mail Service began exchanging mail “on-the-fly” in 1869. This system of mail cranes made it unnecessary for trains to stop at every town to load and unload mail.

Location: 
Binding the Nation

Mud wagons and more elegant, decorated Concord coaches carried passengers and mail throughout the country. The ride in these hard wagons over rough roads and dusty deserts or in frigid, snowy weather tested the endurance of even the most seasoned traveler.

Location: 
Customers and Communities

Networks of pneumatic tubes speeded mail beneath city street beginning in the 1890s. Pneumatic carriers holding 600 letters traveled at about 35 miles per hour.

Location: 
Atrium

Sorting mail on moving trains was one of the postal service’s great innovations. After the Civil War, Post Office officials worked to decentralize operations, concentrating on the growing volume of mail carried on the nation’s rail lines.

Location: 
Customers and Communities

Wagons carried mailbags between railway stations and city post offices, which often were miles apart. Screen wagons, introduced in 1886 at Sherman, Texas, increased security as the mail moved between post offices, railroad stations, and steamboat landings.

Location: 
Atrium

Postal workers in Albany, New York’s post office became attached to Owney, a scruffy mutt, in the late 1880s.  Discover Owney, Mascot of the Railway Mail Service.

Location: 
Binding the Nation

This model represents the Central America ocean steamer. The Central American, with 423 passengers and crew, tons of mail and freight, and over $1 million in gold on board, sunk in a storm off Cape Hatteras on September 12, 1857.

Location: 
Atrium

In 1918 the Post Office Department requested 100 de Havilland airplanes from the army. These airplanes were not designed for the demands of airmail service. Its greatest flaw was the placement of the cockpit.

Location: 
Atrium

All American Aviation (AAA) used aircraft like this in a series of airmail pick-up experiments in a selection of Pennsylvania and West Virginia communities without municipal airports.

Location: 
Atrium

Fred Wiseman took off on February 17, 1911 with a handful of mail, flying from Petaluma to Santa Rosa, California. He flew about 100 feet off the ground at a maximum speed of 70 mph.

Location: 
Art of Cards and Letters

This registration handstamp was one of six post-marking devices recovered from the U.S.S. Oklahoma. It is dated “Dec. 6 1941” the last day it was used. The Oklahoma was struck by a series of bomb and torpedo blasts during the raid on Pearl Harbor and ultimately capsized.

Location: 
Art of Cards and Letters

Victory Mail, more commonly known as V-Mail, operated during World War II to expedite mail service for American armed forces overseas. Moving the rapidly expanding volume of wartime mail posed hefty problems for the Post Office, War, and Navy Departments. Officials sought to reduce the bulk and weight of letters, and found a model in the British Airgraph Service started in 1941 that microfilmed messages for dispatch.

September 23, 2013 - Permanent
Exhibition

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.

Learn more