This museum remains a hit, especially for families, but anyone might spend a pleasant hour here. Bring your address book, and you can send postcards to the folks back home through an interactive exhibit that issues a cool postcard and stamps it. That's just one feature that makes this museum visitor-friendly. Many of its exhibits involve easy-to-understand activities, like postal-themed video games.
The museum documents America's postal history from 1673 (about 170 years before the advent of stamps, envelopes, and mailboxes) to the present. (Did you know that a dog sled was used to carry mail in Alaska until 1963, when it was replaced by an airplane?) In the central gallery, suspended from the 90-foot-high atrium ceiling, are three planes that carried mail in the early decades of the 20th century. These, along with a railway mail car, an 1851 mail/passenger coach, and a replica of an airmail beacon tower, are all part of the Moving the Mail exhibit, recently augmented by On the Road. This new exhibit explores the history of such city mail vehicles as the 1931 Ford Model A mail truck on display. Customers and Communities traces the evolution of mail delivery as it expanded to reach growing populations in both rural areas and the cities. In Binding the Nation, historic correspondence illustrates how mail kept families together in the developing nation. Several exhibits deal with the famed Pony Express, a service that lasted less than 2 years but was romanticized to legendary proportions by Buffalo Bill and others. In the Civil War section you'll learn about Henry "Box" Brown, a slave who had himself "mailed" from Richmond to a Pennsylvania abolitionist in 1856. The Art of Cards and Letters gallery displays rotating exhibits of personal (sometimes wrenching, always interesting) correspondence taken from different periods in history, as well as greeting cards and postcards; "War Letters Lost and Found" was the theme of the letters most recently on display. In addition, the museum houses a vast research library for philatelic researchers and scholars, a stamp store, and a museum shop. Inquire about free walk-in tours at the information desk.
Opened in 1993, this off-the-Mall Smithsonian museum occupies the lower level of the palatial Beaux Arts quarters of the Old City Post Office Building, which was designed by architect Daniel Burnham and is situated next to Union Station.
- © Frommer's 2013
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- Recommended 2009