National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum is located at 2 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., on the lower level of the old Post Office building, which served the District from 1914 to 1986. Established through a joint agreement in 1990 between the Smithsonian Institute and the U.S. Postal Service, the Museum officially opened on July 30, 1993. The National Philatelic collection of the Museum began in 1886 with a single donation of a sheet of 10 cent Confederate stamps to the Smithsonian Institute. The collection was housed in the Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall from 1908 to 1963, then moved to the Museum of American History, and finally to its present location. Through numerous gifts from individuals, foreign countries, government agencies, and additional purchases, the Museum’s collection now numbers over 5.9 million items. The exhibits follow the history of the postal service, the production of stamps, the modes of mail transportation, and the work of postal inspectors, as well as types of mailboxes, mailbags, and uniforms.

The 75,000 square foot Museum has 23,000 square feet of exhibition space, a 6,000 square foot research library, a stamp store, and a gift shop. Escalators take visitors to the floor level of the Museum, which features a 90’ atrium where a railway mail train has been re-created, and five galleries of permanent exhibits. Binding the Nation highlights the progress of mail delivery within the colonies to the westward expansion. As the population grew and spread beyond the urban areas, the needs of customers and communities changed, as well. Mail was often delivered to the local general store by stagecoach and the Pony Express, as rural mail delivery (RFD) was non-existent until 1896. At the same time, the catalog industry arrived to fulfill the needs of farm families living on rural routes. From the past to the present, visitors can research, learn, and participate in the interactive gallery of demonstrations, films, computer stations, and displays.

Another gallery features exhibits along the Star Route, created in 1845 to bring mail across the country by any possible means from snowshoes and dog sleds to canoes and horseback. Mail service gradually changed and improved with the railroad, the automobile, and use of the mail trucks we still see today. Beginning in 1832 and for some time, mail sorting was done enroute from town to town by rail. By the 1900’s and during wartime, the airlines brought cards and letters from overseas, and progress continued to be made in the postal service. The main Philatelic gallery features stamp collections through the years and a vault housing the rare and exceptional ones that are placed in rotating exhibits in the Museum.

Temporary exhibits include the Queen’s Own: Stamps that Changed the World., from Queen Elizabeth II’s personal collection beginning with George V in 1910 through her coronation. In addition, there are stamps from the Jenny Class Reunion and Down with the Fraud, investigations by postal inspectors of crimes against the mail. Mail to the Chief is a collection of drawings made for the U.S.P.S. by FDR. Currently on display through January 31, 2008, Out of the Mails traces the journey of Hugh Finlay, a postal inspector in 1773, as he explored the problems of mail delivery in colonial times. The Trailblazers and Trendsetters exhibit includes the original artwork in stamps designed for notable persons, inventions, and events. In addition, the Museum is featuring the large, impressive Benjamin Miller stamp collection now on display for the first time in 30 years. Donated by Miller in 1925 to the New York Public Library, the collection had been locked and stored after a theft occurred in 1977. It is being presented in two parts due to its size, both at the Museum and online. The first exhibition, ongoing through October 2007, covers rare and unusual stamps such as the 1-cent Z grill that were issued by private companies until 1894. The second part, from November 5, 2007 through January 12, 2009, will include stamps from 1894 to the 1920’s.

Hours: Open 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., every day except December 25. Free admission, and handicap accessible.
One-hour Group Tours: 11:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m., 7 days a week, for 10 or more, Ph: 202-633-5534. Guided Student Tours: 10:30 a.m., September through May, Ph: 202-633-5535. Walk-in Tours: 30 minutes, as docents are available. Self-guided tours: Maps and pamphlets available at the kiosk by the entrance.
Parking: On-street, and all-day paid parking at Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave.

(Note: Other items of interest to collectors and the general public can be found at the Museum’s online website – Arago: People, Postage & the Post )

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