This week’s Smithsonian Snapshot marks the June 15, 1942, launch of V-Mail, the overseas communication service used between military personnel, family and friends.
During World War II, Army Post Offices, Fleet Post Offices and U.S. post offices were flooded with mail sent by service members and family. V-Mail was a solution to the volume of mail competing with essential wartime supplies for cargo space.
The U.S. adapted Great Britain’s Airgraph service and integrated microfilm technology into its wartime system. V-Mail letters were copied onto microfilm, which was shipped overseas and reproduced at one-quarter of the original size at a processing station where it was then delivered to the addressee.
V-Mail required standardized 8 ½-by-11-inch stationery like that pictured here from the Wessel Co. in Chicago. The distinguishing marks and uniform size of the stationery helped workers gather the folded letter sheets to be photographed onto 16 mm microfilm. All sheets were set to standard dimensions, weight, grain and layout so they fit in the Kodak microfilming machines.
Correspondents could obtain two sheets per day from their local post office for free. Others opted to purchase the materials that were available in neighborhood stores.
The National Postal Museum’s collection of V-Mail stationery demonstrates the intersection of governmental and commercial efforts to facilitate mail for the military. Frequent letter writing was encouraged for its morale-boosting effects on America’s soldiers.
To learn more about American military history, visit the National Museum of American History’s “Price of Freedom” exhibition website. To learn more about V-Mail, visit the National Postal Museum’s, “Mail Call” online exhibition website.
This item is one of 137 million artifacts, works of art and specimens in the Smithsonian’s collection. It is not currently on display. To learn more about this item, visit the National Museum Postal Museum website.
Posted: 13 June 2012