March 16, 2010
National Postal Museum, Part II: Characters
Once you actually go through the historic lobby of the the National Postal Museum, you enter a large atrium, around the sides of which are the entrances to side rooms. Each side room focuses on different eras, methods of delivery, and persons important to the history of the United States Postal System. The exhibits on postal figures were some of my favorites, as they really deepened my knowledge of individuals that I though I already knew a lot about. For starters, history classes frequently highlight Benjamin Franklin's accomplishments as a scientist, founding father, and French envoy, students rarely learn very much about Franklin's role as the first Postmaster General of the United States.
Another character that gets lots of exhibit space in the museum is Franklin Delano Roosevelt. This may be well known by older Americans, but I had no idea that FDR was into philately! In fact, he was so well known as a stamp collector that he was often given gifts of stamps by foreign diplomats. Above is a reproduction of a campaign poster for FDR, hung above the President's stamp collection box. Just before the President's death, a friend had offered to have the box recovered, as a gift. After Roosevelt's passing, the friend returned the box to the Roosevelt family, so the mail tags you see on the box are original from that trip through the post. Below is a picture of another gift given to the Roosevelt, a shelf that the President put on casters and used to wheel about his books of stamps.
In another part of the FDR exhibit, placards explain how the President used postage stamps as a means of improving the national mood during the Great Depression of the 1930s. It was under Roosevelt that colored stamps were first introduced, in wonderful greens and pinks. So into stamps was the President, that he even designed a few himself. It's amazing what you learn when you actually take the time to read the plastic cards next to everyday looking objects.
At the far end of the atrium, there is a walk-through exhibit all about postal inspectors and the perpetrators they catch. I didn't feel quite right taking pictures of mail bombs and the whackos that send them... so I instead took this picture of a poster that gives pointers on how to identify a dangerous package. All around this poster are stories of train robbers (that stole mail carried by train), the unabomber, and the postal inspectors that spent much of their lives pursuing them.