World War I

Topical Reference Page
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Postcard showing machine gun practice, postmarked: Lawton, OK. Ft. Sill Branch, Dec. 3, 1917, 6 pm.

With millions of people deployed to the front, the number of letters, postcards, packages, and news exchanged rose substantially during World War I, 1914-1918. Social welfare organizations created opportunities, campaigns, and materials to encourage letter writing to sustain morale at home and at the front. Governments developed methods to control communication through censorship regulations and adapted logistical networks to move great quantities of mail.

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Exhibition
During World War I, the postal system experienced unprecedented growth. Between July 1, 1917 and June 30, 1918 the Post Office Department dispatched 35 million letters to the American Expeditionary Forces. Image: MPES handstamp die (shown in reverse)
February 2, 2018 - September 5, 2018
Exhibition

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

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April 6, 2017 - December 2, 2018
Exhibition

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 Included are previously unpublished letters by General John Pershing, the general who led the American Expeditionary Forces and a person who understood the power of the medium.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.

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Object Spotlight

Like travelers today postal employee Charles P. Leary needed a passport to journey abroad during World War I. Unlike modern passports however it was granted for a specific purpose: to allow Leary to travel to France where the Post Office Department was establishing a service to support the deployment of US military personnel.

Image: Special Passport for Postal Agent Charles P. Leary

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Exhibition
On the battlefront and at home, letters provide a vital connection between military service members and their families, friends, and loved ones. Motivated by the extraordinary circumstances of war, letter writers often reveal the priorities of life through vivid, heartfelt words and sentiments. Image: American serviceman composes a letter, c. 1918. Courtesy U.S. Army Military History Institute
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Research Articles
The Great War dominated American minds and hearts, especially after the United States declared war on Germany on April 6, 1917. As American soldiers began to pour across the Atlantic to help the Allied cause, letter writing provided a crucial connection between these men and their families back in the states. Image: Letter mailed from Paris by an American private, 1918

Related Blogs

Write that Letter Home, Part III: Senders, Recipients, and the Content of World War I Correspondence

The National Postal Museum is pleased to share part one of a three-part blog series by historian and philatelic genealogist James R. Miller.

Write that Letter Home, Part II: Senders, Recipients, and the Content of World War I Correspondence

The National Postal Museum is pleased to share part one of a three-part blog series by historian and philatelic genealogist James R. Miller.

Write that Letter Home, Part I: Senders, Recipients, and the Content of World War I Correspondence

The National Postal Museum is pleased to share part one of a three-part blog series by historian and philatelic genealogist James R. Miller.

Holiday Parcels in World War I

One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a curator is about care packages, namely, what did family and friends send to each other during one time period or another? The curiosity is understandable—who among us doesn’t want to peek inside the mail?

Pages

Related

World War I related content

World War I and Postal Traffic in British Colonies

Paper written by Richard Maisel for the 2008 Winton M. Blount Symposium.

Image: Title page of Empire Abstracts, Number 48

Postal and Treasury Savings Stamp Systems: The War Years

Paper written by Harry K. Charles for the 2008 Winton M. Blount Symposium.

Image: War Savings Certificate stamps

Food Will Win the War

“Food Will Win the War”: Motor Trucks and the Farm-to-Table Postal Delivery Program, 1917-1918
Paper written by Robert G. Cullen for the 2008 Winton M. Blount Symposium.

Image: Egg crate, c. 1920