For the tourist, Washington DC presents an overwhelming wealth of choices of places to see and things to do. The nation’s capital has world famous museums and attractions and entrance to most of these attractions is free. This encourages the tourist to check out as many of the famous museums as possible.
Not surprisingly the visitor heads straight for the bigger and better known sites leaving little time for the smaller but also important museums. Located in the shadow of the Capitol and the splendor and bustle of the Union Station, the National Postal Museum is not in the same rank as the bigger stars of the Smithsonian galaxy. Dwarfed as it is by better-known museums, the Postal Museum is sometimes overlooked. The museum, however, is well worth a visit.
The Museum Exhibits
The exhibits include the transports and vehicles used in carrying mail to the far corners of the country. Starting with the original Pony Express riders, the service moved on to use horse-drawn carriages and, when trains were introduced, yet another mode of transport, faster and more dependable, became available for moving mail. The exhibits include mailboxes and mailbags used for carrying mail safely and the different uniforms adopted by the service for mail carriers to make them distinct and recognizable. The special equipment used in handling and transferring mail is in itself a story of ingenuity. Devices were created for dropping mail from moving trains safely and securely and also for picking up mail without stopping. Special rail cars were introduced for sorting mail and readying it for distribution while on the move. The museum exhibit includes 3 small airplanes in the main hall to remind visitors how airmail in this country took off.
For a country as vast as America, it has been no small feat establishing a mail network stretching to all corners of the country. The postal service plays a vital role in communications. This is a service the country depends on every day to deliver mail and packages on time. The museum is small yet it has an important history – one that is closely interwoven with national events. In addition to 5.9 million stamps in the collection, the museum has numerous exhibits tracing the history and features of the postal service. It is a fascinating story and it is well told in the Postal Museum.
History of U.S. Mail
The story of the US postal service opens modestly in 1710 with the British Parliament enacting what has come to be known as The Queen Anne’s Act. The Act determined how the post office would be administered in the North American colonies. In 1792 the Postal Act was passed and the Postal Service came into being. Finally, in 1829 the postmaster general was elevated to presidential cabinet rank and the service became the Post Office Department. It was not until 1970 with the Postal Reorganization Act, that the service became the U.S. Postal Service as it is known today. Benjamin Franklin’s life and work have shaped the early history of our country and the many institutions he helped establish. The post office is also one such institution. Franklin served as Deputy Postmaster general from 1753 to 1775 when he became Postmaster General. A statue of Franklin stands prominently in the museum in recognition of his role in the early administration of the postal service. The Postal Museum moved to the current location in 1993. The museum occupies 65,000 square feet of gallery space at this location adjacent to the Union Station. A recently announced gift of 8 million dollars to the museum has been made and will be used to add 12,000 square feet of gallery space to the museum.
The Museum’s Stamp Collection
The stamp collection which is the largest philatelic collection in the world, includes US and International stamps. The collection of Commemorative Stamps feature famous Women, the Black Experience, American Indian among others. A reserved section of rare stamps is also part of the museum’s collection but viewing is strictly by appointment.
The museum has two entrances. The first is located across from the Union Station on E. Capitol Street. A second entrance is on Massachusetts Avenue. This entrance has inscribed above it what is often referred to as the motto of the Postal Service:
“MESSENGER OF SYMPATHY AND LOVE
SERVANT OF PARTED FRIENDS
CONSOLER OF THE LONELY
BOND OF THE SCATTERED FAMILY
ENLARGER OF THE COMMON LIFE”
The National Postal Museum has a central location and is easily accessible using public transportation. Metro’s Red Line has a stop at the Union Station. The Circulator bus service also stops at the station. There are other bus services also serving the area. The museum however, does not have a café. This is not a cause of any hardship as Union Station next door has diverse restaurant offerings that one could wish for extending from Fast food to Gourmet dining.
The National Postal Museum also has an excellent web site and the exhibits may be viewed by visiting the web site.