Since the theme of Milcopex 2023 will include postcards and postcard exhibits, we felt that some guidance would be appreciated. Below are a few Milwaukee postcards, a brief history of the postcard and websites that we hope you enjoy and use for your exhibit.
In the decades around 1900, a craze swept the world as postcards—a fast and innovative way to communicate—became the email, Twitter, and Flickr of the age. Billions upon billions of cards were bought, mailed, or collected in albums.
Printed on plain stock and measuring about 5½ by 3½ inches, the humble postcard was introduced in 1869 by the Austro-Hungarian postal service as a fast and inexpensive mode of communication. It soon became a worldwide sensation, exploding into a mass medium, especially in the decades between 1890 and 1910. They were a truly democratic art form, accessible to a wide audience for just pennies. In addition, they chronicled social change and served as a vehicle for commerce and propaganda.
In the U.S. in 1870, Hymen L. Lipman began issuing postcards under a the name Lipman’s Postal Cards. Congress passed legislation on June 8, 1872, that approved government production of postal cards. The first government-produced postcard was issued on May 1, 1873. On May 19, 1898, Congress passed an act allowing private printing companies to produce postcards with the statement “Private Mailing Card, Authorized by Act of Congress of May 19, 1898.” Private mailing cards now cost the same amount of money to mail as government-produced postcards: 1¢. The words “Private Mailing Card” distinguished privately printed cards from government printed cards. At that time, messages were not allowed on the address side of the private mailing cards, as indicated by the words “This side is exclusively for the Address,” or slight variations of this phrase. However, if the front of the postcard did not contain an image, it could bear a message. If the front did have an image, then a small space was left on the front for a message.
In December 1901, the Postmaster-General issued Post Office Order No. 1447, which allowed the words “Post Card” instead of the longer “Private Mailing Card” on the back of postcards. In 1907, a major change on the address side of postcards occurred. This change was prompted by the Universal Postal Congress, the legislative body of the Universal Postal Union. The convention decreed that postal cards produced by governments of member nations could have messages on the left half of the address side, The "Divided Back Period" (1907-15) is also known as the “Golden Age of Postcards,” due to the vast popularity of postcards during this time period.
The Postcard Age takes visitors back in time to an era when industrialization, urbanization, immigration, and shifting viewpoints about culture, class, women’s rights, and new money shook society. The era was embodied in the postcard mania, which reflected the obsession with novelty and the “need for speed,” while making inexpensive communication available to all.
Postcards featuring photographs, puzzles, advertisements, and even risqué images were mailed and collected worldwide. Although some critics decried the lack of formality and warned of the demise of the well-written letter, others celebrated the ease, beauty, variety, and efficiency afforded by the cards, which had an image on the front and space for the address and a brief message on the back.
During the postcard age, an obsession with technological change was reflected in postcards that celebrated the latest and greatest advances. Oil and gas-fueled machines, electricity, and new forms of entertainment and communications were often seen. Images of light bulbs, speeding cars, soaring airplanes, and modern appliances appealed to the consumer’s interest in all things that would transform their lives.
Another major development brought on by this new age was the increase in travel for both business and pleasure. Never before had travel been so accessible and affordable to so many. Postcards heralded the latest and greatest modes of transportation (such as the airship Graf Zeppelin), tempt travelers with exotic and not-so-exotic destinations and showcase the pleasures of vacation.
For more postcard history please visit the Smithsonian Institution link below.
Above is a postcard depicting arrival in Milwaukee by boat from Chicago in the early 1900's.