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Posts Tagged postcards

Postcard with Santa in an old-fashioned airplane flying over a snowy scene as a woman waves; also contains textSanta Claus employs the latest in transportation technology to share his greetings in this Christmas postcard, 1910. / THF93052


During the first two decades of the 20th century, people were likely to find colorful Christmas postcards when they reached into their mailboxes as the holiday neared. Americans were experiencing a postcard craze!

A New Idea: Sending Holiday Greetings


Postcard with several children in old-fashioned dress holding hands and dancing around a small Christmas tree
A pre-postcard era Christmas card by Louis Prang & Company of Boston, 1880. During the mid-1870s, Prang began publishing Christmas and other greeting cards, creating a highly successful Christmas card industry. / THF16646

It’s not that people didn’t send Christmas cards before that time. They did, especially during the 1870s and 1880s as Christmas became more widely celebrated in homes and in the community. Sending a Christmas greeting card was a way to keep in touch with distant family and friends. In the decades following the Civil War, as Congress increasingly standardized delivery, mail traveled more rapidly, dependably, and cheaply than it had before, transporting Christmas cards and other mail throughout the nation.

Matted black-and-white photo of a man and woman in a room filled with mail bins and cubbies with items sorted into them
Post office in the small town of Hoxie, Kansas, about 1913. / THF700079

Yet interest in giving or sending printed holiday greetings through the mail had waned somewhat by the 1890s. That is, until circumstances—lower postal rates and improved delivery service to all areas of the country—helped create a postcard boom for urban and rural residents alike and encouraged a Christmas card revival.

The Postman Brings Postcard Cheer


n 1898, the United States Post Office reduced the cost of mailing privately printed postcards to one cent. As postcards caught the public’s fancy in the first decade of the 20th century, these cards blossomed with colorful images, humorous messages, or holiday greetings. Postcards quickly became an attractive and ready means of inexpensive communication, with room for a personal message on the reverse.

During the “Golden Age” of postcards, from about 1900 to 1914, people bought and mailed billions. In 1904, the New York City post office alone handled about 30,000 cards per day. Many of these billions of postcards were holiday-themed—Christmas postcards were the most popular.

Black-and-white photo of small delivery trucks lined up in front of a large brick building
United States Post Office delivery trucks, Ardmore, Pennsylvania, 1908. / THF700044

Double arch-shaped image of postman by mailbox on a residential street adding items to mailbag; a bike leans against postbox and a large sack is nearby
Mail carrier, about 1925. / THF289999

By 1902, rural mail routes had become a permanent part of the postal service. Instead of having to make a trip into town to the post office to retrieve their mail, rural residents now had the same advantage as city dwellers—mail was delivered directly to their homes.

Man sits in very small boxy cart/wagon hitched to a horse in front of a building
Rural Free Delivery in a horse-drawn mail delivery wagon, 1895–1920. / THF143935

Silver arch-shaped mailbox with text on front and side
Rural Free Delivery mailbox, 1900–1916. / THF158049

Christmas Postcard Greetings—Inexpensive and Colorful


Postcard with eye-shaped illustration of children skating on an icy pond; border contains holly and text
Back of postcard with printed text and place for writing message, address, and stamp
Postcard advertising the Souvenir Post Card Company’s line of Christmas postcards, about 1910. /
THF700082 and THF700083

These colorful seasonal greetings were not only affordable, they were attractive and appealing.

The time was right. Between 1900 and 1910, entrepreneurs established most of the American greeting card companies, including Hallmark Cards, American Greetings, Rust Craft, and the Gibson Art Company. Many of the colorful postcards companies sold to their American customers were printed in Germany—American printing technology lagged behind that of the Germans.

Postcard with Santa in sleigh being pulled by four reindeer; also contains a Christmas tree and child sleeping
German-made postcard of Santa and reindeer and sleeping child, 1907-1910. / THF136483

The postcards displayed a range of what we now think of as symbols of Christmas, including Santa Claus, children with toys, Christmas trees, houses and churches in the snow, ice skating, bells, holly, and angels.

Postcard with images of birds, holly berries, and a holly leaf containing an image of a stone bridge and houses in snow
This postcard combines holly with a snowy landscape. / THF6869

Vertical postcard with text and image of Santa holding his hands out to two reindeer
Young girl in spats, blue coat, and hat with blue ribbon pulls a small cart with a doll in it; also contains text
Postcards sporting images of Santa with reindeer, 1907–1910, and a child with toys, 1905–1910. /
THF136481 and THF4503

Postcard with decorative background containing holly and bells; also contains text and image of church in snow
Vertical blue postcard with image of winged angel in white robes holding a small Christmas tree lit with candles; also contains text
Christmas postcards—with a snow-covered church, holly, and bells, and with an angel holding a Christmas tree, 1910 and 1915. /
THF700046 and THF700048

Up-to-date technology made its appearance in these Christmas postcards as well.

Postcard with Santa with sack of toys on his back on left side and young child on right side, talking to each other on old-fashioned telephones; also contains text
A child uses the telephone, rather than a letter, to communicate her wish list to Santa, 1907. / THF135741

Postcard of two people in an open car decked with holly in a snowy woods
Postcard of two people in an open car driving through snow
Images of automobiles often appeared on Christmas cards of the era, 1907
1910 and 1910. / THF135815 and THF143923

Postcard of St. Nick in purple cape on motorcycle with toys in front basket; contains text and border of holly leaves and berries
Santa tries out motorcycle delivery of presents rather than reindeer-powered transportation, 1910–1920. / THF4508

The postcard craze peaked between 1907 and 1910—it was particularly popular among rural and small-town women in the northern United States. Some 700 million postcards were mailed during the year ending June 30, 1908, alone.

Yet the postcard craze would soon ebb. In 1909, a tariff was placed on imported postcards, making the German-printed imports more expensive. The quality of available postcards began to fall. Public interest waned and artistic tastes changed. In 1914, World War I further disrupted the postcard industry, as German-produced cards and high-quality dyes used for ink became unavailable. As the war continued, many companies shifted to greeting card—rather than postcard—production. The telephone probably contributed as well, as more households had phones to reach family and friends more quickly. The “Golden Age” of postcards was drawing to a close.

Step into Christmas Postcards Past


Small, beige, one-story wooden building with wreath on door and lights strung above it
Phoenixville Post Office in Greenfield Village during Holiday Nights. / Photo courtesy of Jeanine Miller

Today, strolling past the Phoenixville Post Office during Holiday Nights in Greenfield Village offers a glimpse into this slice of Christmas postal history.

Two people stick their faces through holes in a life-size holiday postcard among evergreens
Two people stick their faces through holes in a life-size holiday postcard among evergreens
Photos courtesy of Jeanine Miller and Glenn Miller.

Visitors can experience the early 20th century postcard craze for themselves by posing behind enlarged versions of Christmas postcards placed near the Phoenixville Post Office—and then act as digital “postal carriers” by sending these images to family and friends by text or email.

A row of large wooden backdrops with holes cut for people's faces stands in front of a building along a sidewalk
Photo courtesy of Jeanine Miller.

From a curator’s point of view, it’s a wonderful to see these postcards of Christmas Past become part of Christmas Present! You can take a “peek” into Christmas mailboxes of the past by clicking here to see additional early-20th-century postcards in our collection.

Merry Christmas!


Jeanine Head Miller is Curator of Domestic Life at The Henry Ford. Many thanks to Sophia Kloc, Office Administrator for Historical Resources at The Henry Ford, for editorial preparation assistance with this post.

events, postcards, holidays, Holiday Nights, Greenfield Village, correspondence, Christmas, by Jeanine Head Miller

THF120337


Postcard, Old Faithful Geyser, 1934

Yellowstone National Park, the first national park established in 1872, was a uniquely American innovation.  Like the Declaration of Independence, it embodied America’s democratic ideals—in this case, the groundbreaking idea that our magnificent natural wonders should be enjoyed not by a privileged few but by everyone.  The inscription over Roosevelt Arch at the north entrance to the park, "For the Benefit and Enjoyment of the People," symbolizes the ideals that established Yellowstone and defined the vision for all national parks to come.

Come now on a virtual tour through The Henry Ford’s collection to view the wonders of Yellowstone National Park.

THF120280
Postcard, Entrance Gateway, 1903-4

Imagine it is the early 1900s, and you’ve chosen to take the four-day guided tour through the park by horse-drawn carriage.  From the north entrance, you travel through towering canyons to your first stop, Mammoth Hot Springs.  

THF120316
Postcard, Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces, 1935

The hot springs there, heavily charged with lime, have built up tier upon tier of remarkable terraces.  The springs are constantly changing, presenting what one guidebook calls “an astonishing spectacle of indescribable beauty.”  After viewing the hot springs and walking among its many terraces, you spend your first night at the humble but serviceable Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel.

THF120284
Postcard, Park Stage at Mammoth Hot Springs, 1904-5

The next day, anticipation builds as you head south into the area with all the geyser activity.  You pass Roaring Mountain, so named for the sound of steam fumaroles that became very active and noisy there in 1902.

THF120288
Postcard, The Constant and the Black Growler, Norris Geyser Basin, 1908-9

Before long, you reach the first great geyser basin: Norris Geyser Basin. At the intersection of three major earthquake fault zones, Norris is the hottest, most active geyser basin in the park. Underground water temperatures of 706 degrees Fahrenheit have been measured.  Norris has it all: hot springs, geysers, fumaroles, and bubbling mud pots. 

THF120298
Postcard, Geysers in Eruption, Upper Geyser Basin, 1908-9

From Norris, you proceed to Lower and Middle Geyser Basins until you finally reach Upper Geyser Basin—the place you’ve heard so much about. Approximately two square miles in area, Upper Geyser Basin contains the largest concentration of geysers in the park—in fact, nearly one-quarter of all of the geysers in the world!  A variety of other thermal features also exist here, including colorful hot springs and steaming fumaroles.

THF120323
Postcard, Old Faithful Inn and Geyser, 1935

Upper Geyser Basin is home to Old Faithful, the most famous and celebrated geyser in the world. The 1870 Washburn Expedition camped near this geyser. They were the ones who named it Old Faithful, because they discovered it had frequent and regular eruptions. It can last from 2-5 minutes, reach a height of 90 to 184 feet, and emit 10,000 to 12,000 gallons of water at a time.  

THF120294
The Lobby, Old Faithful Inn, 1904-5

You stop for the night here at Old Faithful Inn, a grand hotel built in 1903. Most resort hotels at the time were intended to serve as civilized oases from the wilderness.  However, Old Faithful Inn, the first true rustic-style resort, was designed by young, self-taught architect Robert Reamer to fit in with nature rather than to escape from it.  The inside of the hotel continues the rustic look, with a spectacular seven-story log-framed lobby containing a massive stone fireplace.  

THF120304
Postcard, Paint Pots, Yellowstone Lake, 1905-6

Heading down the road, West Thumb Geyser Basin is one of the smaller geyser basins in Yellowstone. Located along the edge of Yellowstone Lake, it consists of a stone mantle riddled with hot springs. These resemble vast boiling pots of paint with a continuous bubbling-up of mud.

THF120306
Postcard, Fish Pot Hot Spring, 1901

About 30 miles from Upper Geyser Basin is Yellowstone Lake—one of the coldest, largest, and highest lakes in North America. The lake includes 110 miles of shoreline and reaches depths of up to 390 feet. The bottom of the lake remains a constant 42 degrees Fahrenheit year-round.  

THF120308
Postcard, Lake Hotel, 1904-5

Here you rest for the night at the charming Yellowstone Lake Hotel, the oldest surviving hotel in the park, built in 1891. Robert Reamer added the colonial-style columns to this quintessential Eastern-styled hotel in 1903. 

Heading back north along the park’s Grand Loop Road, Hayden Valley is filled with large, open meadows on either side of the Yellowstone River—the remains of an ancient lakebed. The valley is the year-round home to bison, elk, and grizzly bear.

THF210087
Postcard in souvenir viewbook, Great Falls, 1934

As the Yellowstone River flows north from Yellowstone Lake, it leaves the Hayden Valley and takes two great plunges: first over the Upper Falls and then, a quarter mile downstream, over the Lower Falls—at which point it enters the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.  In places, the canyon walls drop some 1,000 feet to the river below. You spend the night at the last of the four great Yellowstone resorts, Grand Canyon Hotel, before returning to Mammoth Hot Springs and the end of your tour. 

THF120327
Postcard, A Wylie Single Tent Interior, about 1910

Those who can’t afford the type of tour you’ve just taken can choose the less expensive “Wylie Way,” which involves seeing the sites from a Wylie stagecoach and lodging in a canvas tent overnight.  

THF105516
Postcard, Public Automobile Camp in Yellowstone Park, about 1920

It is inevitable, of course, that more and more motorists are arriving at Yellowstone every day. The use of automobiles in the park are bringing paved roads, parking areas, service stations, and improved public campgrounds. Most early motorists are used to roughing it and come prepared to camp.  

THF119064
Photo, Tourist with bear, about 1917

Yellowstone will set the tone for all the other national parks to come. When the National Park Service is formally established in 1916, it incorporates many of the management principles that the U.S. Army brought to Yellowstone when its soldiers first arrived to establish order there back in 1886. Old Faithful Inn will help define the style of Western resorts and park architecture for the next several decades. Finally, as some early tourist behaviors—like feeding bears, peering into geysers, and fishing in hot springs (as shown in the postcard of Fish Pot Hot Springs)—are found to be harmful to Yellowstone’s fragile ecosystems, the park will become a testing ground for exploring and defining what it means to be a national park—serving the dual mission of preserving natural wonders while, at the same time, letting the public enjoy them. 

Donna R. Braden is the Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.

postcards, national parks, auto touring, camping

This selection of postcards represents a uniquely American blend of Hallowe'en traditions that by the early 1900s included the popular activity of sending and collecting these holiday-themed greeting cards.

The colonial American traditions of Hallowe'en centered on celebrations of the harvest, fortune-telling, and even matchmaking. Later immigrants brought new layers of customs and practices, including the jack-o-lantern that is perhaps today's best-known symbol of the American holiday. By the 1890s the growing print media publicized Hallowe'en from its pockets of regional variation across the country, making it a truly national affair. Over time, the holiday became a community observance of eerie fun for all ages.

Based on early 20th-century Hallowe'en celebrations, our annual Greenfield Village Hallowe'en is one of our most attended public events. Since 1981, we have often given guests attending this evening program a reproduction postcard as one of the treats. (This year's Hallowe'en postcard, pictured above, was designed by Ellen Clapsaddle in 1917.) As an amusing addition since 2010, we have created a photo opportunity vignette using an enlarged version of the postcard giveaway. Our Phoenixville Post Office also offers for sale and mailing a selection of Hallowe'en postcard repros from past years, starting in the autumn.

Halloween Card, 1908

M.W. Taggert designed this postcard in 1908 with the message, "Hallowe'en," It shows a host of images associated with this holiday – a witch on a broom headed by a carved pumpkin flying with bats, an owl and cats across the full harvest moon. We gave away repro postcards of this one during a past Greenfield Village Hallowe'en. (Object ID 2004.68.1)

Halloween Card, "Sh! Ghosts!" 1909

This postcard features a pumpkin-headed girl wearing a white bonnet and red dress and holding a cat while saying "Sh! Ghosts!" Ullmann Manufacturing Company published it in 1909 with the heading, "Hallo E'en". We gave away repro postcards of this one during a past Greenfield Village Hallowe'en. (Object ID 94.81.1)

Halloween Postcard, "The Halloween Lantern," 1914

In this postcard, a carved jack-o-lantern illuminates the transformed harvest field of an improbable but fun car ride by a witch and various vegetables during the full moon. John Winsch designed "The Hallowe'en Lantern," card in 1914. We gave away repro postcards of this one during a past Greenfield Village Hallowe'en. (Object ID 2007.69.1)

Halloween Postcard Showing Young People on a Hayride, circa 1912

This postcard shows a group of young people enjoying an evening hayride through the harvest fields. Raphael Tuck & Sons published it about 1912. We gave away repro postcards of this one during a past Greenfield Village Hallowe'en. (Object ID 2008.84.1)

Halloween Greeting Postcard, 1907-1912

This postcard carries the long message, " 'Curioser and Curioser' All hallowe'en. Hallowe'en Greeting." It shows a row of jolly carved pumpkins in a harvest field, made from the artwork by Ellen H. Clapsaddle by the International Art Company about 1907-1912. (Object ID 2013.79.1)

Cynthia Read Miller is Curator of Photographs and Prints at The Henry Ford.

postcards, holidays, Hallowe'en in Greenfield Village, Halloween, Greenfield Village, events, by Cynthia Read Miller