Sunday, August 10, 2014

National Postal Museum

This is my favorite Smithsonian Museum, there is so much more to postal service than just stamps and letters! The museum is housed in the beautiful old Main Post Office of Washington, full of fascinating things to see (Postal dog? Mail police?), and the interactive elements are really fun.

Right across Union Station, the museum is farther away from the other Smithsonian Institutes on the mall. Built in 1914, it is a beautiful building. At the ground floor, I was greeted by a magnificent hall that served postal customers until 1986. The tall decorated ceilings and chandeliers, granite pillars, small service windows and rolls of mailboxes decorated with metallic details of faded gold. You could almost imagine customers in periodical costumes sending their mail, I thought it was like a movie scene, where a lady's urgent mail leads to an exciting story of love and murder.

As with all the Smithsonian museums, it's free to visit :

The outside of the museum

This is the hall that greeted me as I step in the museum.

It's such a beautiful building!

All these little details that tell the history of this building.

Past the grand hall are various exhibitions, a special exhibition titled Pacific Exchange: China & U.S. mail was happening in a series of classical rooms of dark wood decorations. The exhibition told stories of history through mail and postal stamps.

Other exhibition spaces were modern and well organized. I got to see the world's first stamp, learn about how stamp collecting is one of the world's most popular hobbies and famous people who collect stamps. I even got to start my own stamp collection, visitors could pick out 5 free stamps to take home. I was super excited because the stamps were from all over the world and of different time periods.

Pick five stamps to take home!

During my visit, there was a Postcard workshop going on, and visitors are invited to make pretty postcard art using used stamps. The variety of stamps offered was amazing, and I immediately feel in love with making postal art! I made a rainbow colors collage with the stamps, isn't it beautiful? I'm so proud of what I made, I love it!

I made this at the museum at a postcard workshop.

The museum takes visitors through time, and makes us think about things we may have taken for granted. Who invented the stamp? Why was this person inspired? Before stamps were invented, it was actually the person who received the mail who had to pay for the letter. What about zip codes? Sure, it's a fairly "simple" idea, but the invention of zip codes made sorting mail so much easier, before zip codes were invented, postal offices once got overloaded with mail that it had to stop functioning for a few weeks. An interactive game gives you a taste of what its like to sort mail, and see how fast and accurate postal workers are (and how slow and un-accurate you are) sorting zipcodes.

So this is how they check packages.

Of course, nowadays it's all done by this super fast and cool handwriting recognition program, and you get to see all the action of what happens after the moment you drop a letter into the mail box in a documentary. The short documentary called "Systems at Work" answered all my questions, it was fascinating to see the modern technology involved and millions of mail, packages, and periodicals whizz on conveyor belts. Also, imagine my package being one of the hundreds dumped from a truck. I highly recommend this documentary.

Did you know the U.S. has mail police? Yes, there are forces whose job is to protect us from harmful mail. Be it those scam ads, or mail containing harmful white Anthrax powders, it's the jobs of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to keep people safe. See mailboxes from 9-11 that are twisted and burnt, see artifacts and read about case stories about explosives, disasters, and mail fraud.

Did you know there's mail police?

This is the mailbox where terrible anthrax mail was sent out from, it's all dusty white because of the disinfection process. 

You will also see Owney, the U.S. postal service's unofficial mascot. The dog who traveled the country on trains with mail. He carries dozens  of badges of all the postal offices he has visited. You can walk in a rail car that used to be a post office on the move, or the cockpit of an airplane, or follow knife marks on trees that marks a trail. The exhibits are well planned, informational, and fun.

I highly recommend the Postal Museum, it is so much fun! After the exhibit I went and bought a pack of stamps so I could make more mail art, it was like a bag with 400 hundred used stamps. Looks like I will be starting a small post stamp collection of my own.

The U.S. post office's unofficial mascot, the dog that traveled with mail all over the country.

Post boxes from around the world.

There was a time when carriages like these carried mail across the land.

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