"Moving the Mail" Exhibit, National Postal Museum

The National Postal Museum Still Delivers After 25 Years

25 years ago the National Postal Museum first opened its doors to the public.

Away from the National Mall, the National Postal Museum (NPM) opened 25 years ago, fittingly enough, in the lower level of the former Washington City Post Office Building. Located on Massachusetts Avenue across the street from the grand Union Station, the museum was established in 1990 under an agreement between the Smithsonian Institution and the U.S. Postal Service. Architect Daniel Burnham designed both Union Station and the City Post Office Building, which was finished in 1914.

Color photograph of the National Postal Museum building taken from across the street.

The museum takes up 100,000 square feet of the building, with 35,000 of it for exhibition space. The museum shares the history of the nation's mail service, as well as features one of the largest collections of philatelic and postal history items in the world. Artifacts include a stagecoach, airmail planes, mailboxes, and of course, stamps. The National Postal Museum's Library Research Center is home to more than 40,000 volumes and manuscript holdings.

The William H. Gross Stamp Gallery opened five years ago this month, and features more than 20,000 objects in pullout frames and interactives. It is the largest stamp gallery in the world. The museum also offers educational and other programs that include creating greeting cards and learning about stamp collecting.

Prior to having its own museum, the National Philatelic Collection was established at the Smithsonian in 1886 with the donation of a 10-cent Confederate postage stamp sheet. The collection was at the Arts and Industries Building and then moved to the National Museum of History and Technology (now the National Museum of American History) in 1964. Its scope then included postal history and stamp production as well. Founding NPM director James Bruns told the Washington Post, "We're not a stamp museum, we're a history museum," before its July 30, 1993, opening.

Guests in formal attire in the interior exhibition space of the National Postal Museum.

According to the Washington Post on opening day thousands of stamp collectors came. A block set of four new stamps was issued for the special event that included postal history icons such as Benjamin Franklin (first U.S. postmaster general), Charles Lindbergh (airmail pilot), a Pony Express rider, and an image of the Inverted Jenny stamp (design was printed upside down). The museum inaugural displays also had objects related to the items on the stamps, such as a Concord stagecoach and the Benjamin Franklin statue in the museum's foyer.

Throughout its 25 years, the museum has hosted various exhibitions from The Queen’s Own: Stamps That Changed the World to Postal Inspectors: The Silent Service to the current Alexander Hamilton: Soldier, Secretary, Icon that temporarily included the original dueling pistols used by Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

Man in a gray suit stands in from of a mannequin dressed as a postal worked and postal vehicle.

Even though the museum space is small compared to some other Smithsonian museums, the collection has six million objects, which makes it the second largest collection at the Smithsonian, following the National Museum of Natural History with its 146 million objects. There were 486,000 visitors in 2017. The National Postal Museum receives its funding from the U.S. Postal Service, the Smithsonian Institution's annual federal appropriation, and private gifts.

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