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.
The Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum is pleased and proud to host the official North American celebration of The Royal Philatelic Society London’s 150th anniversary from October 17 –20, 2019. The special theme of the program is the 1939 state visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to Washington, D.C., which began next door to the Museum at Union Station. The royal visit marked the only time the world’s two most famous stamp collectors—The King and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt—met face-to-face. In the same way, eighty years later, the Smithsonian and RPSL will bring together some of the world’s leading philatelists for three days of activities. The exhibition will include displays of Empire and Commonwealth treasures and royal autographs from the National Postal Museum’s collection, as well as a non-competitive exhibition of single-frame exhibits by RPSL’s North American members. The exhibition will be open to the public on Friday and Saturday, affording visitors a deeper understanding of the range of material collected and studied by RPSL’s North American members.
John Lennon’s boyhood stamp album—including 565 stamps on more than 150 pages was on display at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum. The exhibition coincided with the U.S. Postal Service’s issuance of the John Lennon Forever stamp, honoring the legendary singer and songwriter. The stamp is part of the USPS’ Music Icons series.
May 15, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the world’s first regularly scheduled airmail service. President Wilson was on hand in Washington, DC to watch the historic take off. At first the service only operated between Washington, Philadelphia and New York. By 1920, airmail raced from New York to San Francisco. It was dangerous work. More than 30 pilots died doing their best to fly the mail. Americans recognized the bravery of these Postmen of the Skies, treating them as heroes. In 1927 the Post Office handed off the last of its routes to private contractors, paving the way for what became the nation’s commercial aviation system.
Flowering Plants on Stamps
This exhibition highlighted the variety of flowering plants commemorated on US postage stamps during the past 50 years and explored artistic themes that emerged during this period.
This exhibit explores the extraordinary life of Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804) through original mail sent and signed by him in his role as the first Secretary of the Treasury and through portraits of him and his contemporaries on postage and revenue stamps. The experience is augmented by in-gallery interactives and educational programming, all coinciding with the Washington dates of the national touring version of “Hamilton: An American Musical.”
Did you know that a village at the bottom of the Grand Canyon eats most of its mail? Or that America’s newest national park was once so secret it used an undercover address? "Trailblazing: 100 Years of Our National Parks", a two-year temporary exhibition, chronicles these and numerous other intersections between mail and our national parks. Featuring original postage stamp art from the United States Postal Service and artifacts loaned by the National Park Service, the exhibition explores the myriad – and sometimes surprising – ways that mail moves to, through and from our national parks.
Through personal correspondence written on the frontlines and home front, this centennial exhibition uncovers the history of America’s involvement in World War I. The compelling selection of letters illuminates emotions and thoughts engendered by the war that brought America onto the world stage; raised complex questions about gender, race and ethnic relations; and ushered in the modern era. Included are previously unpublished letters by General John Pershing, the general who led the American Expeditionary Forces and a person who understood the power of the medium. In his postwar letter that begins “My fellow soldiers,” he recognized each individual under his command for bravery and service. My Fellow Soldiers: Letters from World War I was created by the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in collaboration with the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University.
World War I was a watershed for global political, economic, and social change, and for women’s rights and labor in the United States. During the war, women officially served in and alongside the military in unprecedented numbers and in ways that shaped the professionalization of women’s work. Through the letters and artifacts of four women, visitors can explore unique, personal perspectives on life, duty, and service during the war.
Image: Army nurse, Camp Sherman, Ohio, 1918
Grace (Mechlin) Sparling Collection, Gift of Lillian S. Gillhouse, Women’s Memorial Foundation Collection
Our museum actively collects objects that help tell stories about the postal service, the mail, and philately. Our curators seek out objects that have significant histories; objects that are rare or unique; or objects that reflect trends and customs. We invite you to peek behind the scenes to see how some of our recent acquisitions came to our museum. The objects selected for this exhibition were just a few of many items our museum added to the collection between 2012 and 2016, including: the marketing characters Mr. and Mrs. ZIP, postal workers’ uniforms and equipment, and decorative boxes for postage stamps.
The exhibition communicated a contemporary narrative of mail and the postal service, highlighting the aesthetics of the communication tool itself and the juxtaposition between anonymity and shared experiences. It also demonstrated a unique relationship between mail, digital technology and social media. More than 500 artfully decorated postcards mailed anonymously from around the world reveal regret, fear, betrayal, desire, confession, childhood humiliation and other compelling confessions. A pyramid of more than one quarter million stacked cards represents the magnitude and popularity of sharing secrets via postcards.
In 1892 St. Louis, Missouri added specially-outfitted cars to their trolleys. The service sped up mail deliveries across the city and onto trains headed out of town. By 1908 there were mail trolleys in Brooklyn, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Rochester, Pittsburgh, Seattle and Cleveland. While the trolleys were a great success, their life span was relatively short. Technological advances – underground pneumatic tubes and trucks would make the mail trolleys obsolete. Most cities had stopped using them by 1919. Baltimore’s mail trolleys held on until 1929, finally succumbing to trucks that could carry more mail and move freely through city streets.
A Portrait Through Stamp Art
This exhibition of original artwork explored the diversity of topics highlighting the cultural heritage of New York City. The exhibition provides an opportunity to raise awareness of the Postmaster General’s Collection which the museum has acquired through a long-term agreement with the United States Postal Service.
In 2013, President Obama signed an executive order combating wildlife trafficking in the US. To highlight this effort, a pan institutional team at the Smithsonian Institution created a traveling exhibition that would highlight the effects of wildlife trafficking and the ivory trade on elephant populations. As part of this team, the National Postal Museum hosted the exhibition along with a feature on the Saving Vanishing Species semipostal stamp, which raises funds for wildlife conservation, as well as several stamps showing the issues of elephant ivory poaching and wildlife trafficking.
The United Kingdom’s postal service, Royal Mail, observed its 500th anniversary in 2016. To mark the occasion, the National Postal Museum presented a temporary display of original documents from 1635 and 1840, pivotal years in the expansion and evolution of the country’s postal network. These important documents chronicling postal reform in the United Kingdom were on loan from a private collection. In 1516, King Henry VIII knighted a government clerk named Brian Tuke and gave him the title Governor of the King’s Posts. Sir Brian developed a system of post roads connecting London with the four corners of England. This was a closed system, available only to the king and high-ranking public officials. Its postmen were royal messengers who carried official writs, summonses and orders for the government. Over the next three centuries, however, a series of reforms gradually opened the Royal Mail to public use.
Image: 1635 proclamation for the fetling of the letter. (Courtesy Alan Holyoake)
A chronicle of the African American experience told from the perspective of stamps and mail. Includes letters carried by enslaved Americans, mail to and from famous leaders of the civil rights movement, and a significant selection of original artwork for the USPS Black Heritage stamp series from the Postmaster General’s Collection.
“Favorite Finds” brings together an assortment of philatelic articles shared by our Council of Philatelists, philatelic curators, and museum supporters. Each object comes from a different collection and has a different story. Our donors have graciously shared their reasons for holding these items so dear.
As the largest, fastest, and most glamorous ships of their eras, Hindenburg and Titanic share many similarities. As anniversaries of the disasters are marked in 2012—seventy-five years since Hindenburg burned and a century since Titanic sank—many questions remain unanswered. Original objects include mail, postcards, menus, photographs, keys from the Titanic post office, and the salvaged postmark device from the Hindenburg.
With over 13 million philatelic objects in the museum's collection, this gallery featured the Rarities Vault, the National Stamp Collection (housed in pull-out cases), and changing and rotating exhibitions. The section More American Stamps, which opened Oct. 12, 1997, featured a selection of more than 55,000 American stamps, rotated every six months.