Systems at Work Exhibit Press Materials

Media Contact:
Marty Emery
(202) 633-5518
emerym@si.edu

 

Exhibit Curator
Nancy A. Pope
(202) 633-5526
popena@si.edu

 

Press Release (Dec. 14, 2011)

Exhibit Guide

Exhibit Highlights and Objects

Interactives

Post-Related Factoids

Exhibit Website


Video and Images for Publication

Captions and Credit Lines

All Systems at Work video screenshot showing a satellite view of North America

All Systems at Work video
©2011 Smithsonian Institution and the United States Postal Service
View video on YouTube
Download MP4 video file (290 MB)

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum

Systems at Work exhibit

Systems at Work exhibit
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum


Supporting Images for Publication

Image Titles, Credit lines & Captions

Advanced Facer-Canceler machine

AFCS-200
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
The Advanced Facer-Canceler System (machine design #200). As the name suggests, this machine “faces” the mail – detecting the presence of postage and making sure it faces in the right direction for canceling. Then it cancels the postage, reads the address on the letter, compares it to the database of addresses, and sprays a florescent orange barcode on the back of each letter.

Barney culling machine

"Barney" – Culling Machine
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
This machine does the culling. Postal workers quickly nicknamed the machine “Barney” It’s called “Barney” due to its large size and purple color. The machine pushes out packages, flats, and non-machinable letters, and breaks down a large pile of mail to a stream of a few letters at a time for the next processes.

Carrier at collection mailbox

Carrier at Collection mailbox
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
There are many ways to deposit mail into the mail stream. Here a postal worker gathers mail from a neighborhood collection mailbox.

Clerks and carriers in large city Post Office

Clerks and Carriers in Large City PO
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
At the end of the 19th century, large city post offices were hives of activity as seen in this image. Letter carriers are busy casing (or preparing) their daily mail in large pigeon-hole distribution cases in the top half of the photograph. In the bottom half clerks sort mail by tossing it into the appropriate mail pouch. Clerks needed good eyes and good aim for this job!

Clerks tossing mail into sacks

Clerks Tossing Mail into Sacks
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
In this image from the early 20th century, mail clerks are busy separating bundles of newspapers into mail pouches. The pouches were then placed onto railway mail trains heading to all corners of the continental U.S.

Colonial US Mail Carrier painting

Colonial US Mail Carrier
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Artist Lloyd Branson depicts a colonial mail carrier in this partial view from his painting “Transporting Mail AD 1800/AD 1900.”

Container for 6 dozen eggs

Container for 6 Dozen Eggs
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
After Parcel Post Service was enacted on January 1, 1913, a wide variety of goods began to flood the mails. Manufacturers seized on the opportunity to create and market new products by building specialized containers for certain goods. This container, for instance, was built to safely and securely ship six dozen eggs.

Contemporary postal sorting facility

Contemporary Postal Sorting Facility
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Contemporary postal sorting facilities are mammoth structures holding pieces of machinery that can be longer than a football field. Long rows of loading dock doors are the mail’s gateway into these processing nerve centers. Mail is forwarded to the specific machines, depending on its type, letters, magazines and catalogs, or packages. To help visitors understand the enormous size and activity of these centers, Systems at Work circle a large video “hub” that immerses them in the processing experience.

Jones mail pouch lock

Jones Mail Pouch Lock
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Iron padlock developed by Henry C. Jones. The front body is marked "U. S. MAIL 1859." The back body is marked "H. C. JONES PATENT.” The lock is similar to one Jones patented in 1842 (patent #2525). The lock was used to secure first class mail in mail sacks from 1842 through the 1860s.

Laundry Container

Laundry Container
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
This rectangular, aluminum container was used to ship laundry by Parcel Post. The sender secured the lid to the box with the cotton belt. To facilitate regular shipping between the clothes’ wearer (often a son or daughter at college) and the launderer (usually the mother), their names and addresses appeared on reverse sides of a mailing label. The sender simply flipped the label over to the recipient’s address and attached it to the container’s lid.

front of Multi-Position Letter Sorting Machine
back of Multi-Position Letter Sorting Machine

MPLSM Machine – and rear view
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
The exhibit utilizes a computerized representation of a MPLSM (Multi-Position Letter Sorting Machine) in which visitors are challenged to hit the right keys (first 3 digits of a letter’s ZIP code) to process their pieces of mail. The MPLSM machines were used with the introduction of ZIP codes in 1963 to move more mail, more quickly. A dozen workers stationed at each large machine would “key in” number codes for each letter as they passed by, more than 60 per minute. The letters were then sorted by their codes into bins accessed from the back of the machine.

Mr. ZIP

Mr. Zip
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Mr. Zip was introduced as part of the new ZIP code campaign in 1963. The Post Office Department introduced this coding system for use in their new mail processing machines. Mr. Zip became a popular American figure, and is widely recognized still today, even though the USPS officially retired him in 1986.

front of Postmaster Jackson's distribution case
back of Postmaster Jackson's distribution case

PM Jackson Case – back and front, Postmaster Jackson
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
This counter-top, screen-line post office cabinet belonged to John T. Jackson, an African American postmaster in Alanthus, Virginia. The front side of the cabinet has a central window that is covered with metal mesh as well as an opening at the bottom with a small shelf. Flanking the central window are vertical glass panels that reveal the sorting shelves, which were accessed from the back of the unit. Postal clerks worked from the back of the cabinet, where there are thirty slots for sorting.

The Post Office Department had appointed few other African Americans as postmasters at the time the twenty-nine-year old Jackson assumed the duties at a fourth-class post office in 1891. Jackson earned a commission determined by the amount of postage sold at his station. Along with this postal career, Jackson worked as a merchant, farmer, and sharecropper. Having served as postmaster for over forty-eight years, Jackson retired on January 31, 1940. His wife Lille held the position until the post office closed seven months later.

The cabinet is generally worn from use, although the wood framework appears in good structural condition. The area to the right of the screened window is abraded. The numbers 29, 23, 24, and 26 can be seen by looking through the glass on the right side.

Postmaster Jackson

Charcoal drawing of Postmaster John T. Jackson
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum

Queen bee parcel post container

Queen Bee Parcel Post Container
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
Used for shipping a queen bee, this rectangular wooden container has three circular chambers covered in a wire mesh that hold the queen bee and a few accompanying workers bees, who feed her in transit. Two holes at the ends are sealed during transit, one with a cork and the other with a sugar-candy plug. When the cage is introduced to the hive, the bees work their way through the candy plug, and the queen is released.

Skull and crossbones fancy cancel

Skull and Crossbones Fancy Cancel
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
While small post offices were issued circular date stamps postmasters usually also needed separate stamp canceling devices. Canceling handstamps were used in order to ensure stamps were used only once. Such canceling devices were sometimes made by hand. One example of the creativity of postal employees of the time is this hand-made skull and cross-bones handstamp.

This handstamp, known as a “fancy cancel,” was shaped from lead. As such imprints wore down with use; postmasters and clerks drew out their knives and created new designs. Fancy cancels began disappearing from use after 1904. That was the year the Post Office Department ordered postmasters to stop using “unauthorized postmarking stamps” as part of a standardization and modernization program.

Worker at CSBCS Machine

Worker at CSBCS Machine
Image courtesy of Smithsonian's National Postal Museum
The CSBCS – Carrier Sequence Bar Code Sorter has been deconstructed for visitors to the exhibit – the image on the wall is the machine and five pieces of the machine that have been “pulled out” to help show visitors how it operates.

Carrier Sequence Bar Code Sorting was a key element of the postal system beginning in the 1990s. As more information became available through better address reading and recognition software, the CSBCS was created to sort mail not just to a city, or even post office within a city, but to each carrier’s specific mail route. Workers are able to take trays of letters from this machine and forward them directly to a specific letter carrier.