Stationed overseas? Want to send a love letter to your sweetheart, or check up on the farm back home? Currently reading this blog via some kind of time-travel wormhole to World War II? If you answered 'yes' to all of those, it sounds like you need V-mail (and quite possibly a visit to the Chaplain.)
For three years in the early 1940's (June 15, 1942 through April 1, 1945) the U.S. operated a V-mail service to military posts around the world. The service was based on the British Airgraph system, and it worked like this:
- Get a V-mail letter-sheet. (These were cleverly designed papers that folded to become their own mailers.)
- Write your message, full-size, on the letter portion. Keep it short and write legibly in black ink -- the letter portion is small!
- Address the letter on the reverse side, fold up the V-mail paper (built-in gum seals it), add postage, and mail.
- Military censors receive the letter and check for objectionable content.
- Assuming the letter passes censor review, military processors photograph V-mail letters in bulk onto microfilm.
- Tiny microfilm canisters travel to destinations, reducing postage volume.
- Microfilm is blown up at the receiving end and delivered to the recipient. The final letter is smaller than the original, saving on photographic paper.
The National Postal Museum says:
V-mail ensured that thousands of tons of shipping space could be reserved for war materials. The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack. The weight of that same amount of mail was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45. The blue-striped cardboard containers held V-mail letter forms.
In spite of the patriotic draw of V-mail, most people still sent regular first class mail. In 1944, for instance, Navy personnel received 38 million pieces of V-mail, but over 272 million pieces of regular first class mail.
My grandfather used V-mail from onboard his Navy ship to communicate with loved ones back home. We found a bunch of V-mail letters in an old desk some years back, and I've always loved hearing about this WWII technology. The little V-mail letters have a distinct wartime feel -- they're just a little too small, their form seeming to communicate the distance between writer and recipient.
A "Victory Mail" exhibit opens March 6, 2008 at the Smithsonian's National Postal Museum (read details). For more information, you can also consult Wikipedia, the National Postal Museum, or check out some neat posters and advertisements after the jump.