On June 15, 1942, the Post Office Department inaugurated its V-Mail Service.
Prior to the war, ships, and airplanes that operated on regularly scheduled routes transported mail intended for an overseas destination. Under the provisions of the Universal Postal Union, a friendly Europe ensured their safe and swift delivery.
Background of That Time
All of this changed with the outbreak of World War II; ships no longer sailed on a regular schedule, and enemy submarines made it impossible to guarantee delivery. Planes had to fly a roundabout route. That meant using more petroleum, which was already quite scarce. Since fewer flights were made, cargo space became extremely valuable.
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How Was the V-Mail Service Established?
The Postal Department launched its V-Mail Service on June 15, 1942, after realizing the importance of correspondence with and to the Armed Forces stationed in combat areas to the war effort. The service took its name from the “V for Victory” symbol developed during the war.
What Did the V-Mail Service Do?
Those sending messages by V-Mail used a special combination of letter and envelope that was given preferred sorting and transportation. Specially designed forms were made available for free at stationery stores and distributed to service personnel overseas. V-Mail forms had limited space for a message on one side and instructions for sending on the other.
Once sealed shut, they would apply a stamp. At first, people weren’t allowed to enclose any other items, but eventually, the post office allowed people to send pictures of babies under a year old or those born after their fathers had left for the service. Military authorities read all of the letters and censored them if need be.
The Letters “Experienced” A Lot
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Once received at the V-Mail stations, these letters were opened and filmed at a rate of 2,000 to 2,500 per hour to be transferred to microfilm. About 1,600 letters could fit on one roll, making them about three percent of their original weight and volume.
( For instance, 150,000 regular letters weigh about 1,500 pounds and fill 22 mail sacks. The same letters microfilmed weighed just 45 pounds and fit in one mail sack, which freed up valuable space for other items on transport planes.)
When the letters reached their destinations, they were reproduced onto five-by-four-inch photographs and sent to the recipient in special V-Mail envelopes. The film wouldn’t be destroyed until the recipient received their letter. If they didn’t, the letter would be reprinted.
Servicemen and women could send their letters for free. In the upper left corner, they had to write “Free” along with their name, rank, military branch, and return address. For civilians, the cost was 3¢ for surface mail and 6¢ for airmail, which was later increased to 8¢.
The End of This Kind of Mailing
In 1943, V-Mail reached its peak; in one month, 20,120 rolls of film containing 33,355,554 letters were handled. By the time the service was suspended on November 1, 1945, more than one billion letters had been sent by V-Mail. After that, people were allowed to continue to use V-Mail stationery until the remaining supplies ran out in March 1946.
Outlook for Present Postal Service
The present Postal Service is quite different from the old V-Mail service of the past. During World War II, V-Mail was a revolutionary method of communication, but the Postal Service has adapted to the modern era. With improved technology and streamlined procedures, mail delivery has become more rapid and effective.
Instead of using physical film to sort and track V-Mail, the Postal Service of today uses digital tools to sort and track mail. The present Postal Service offers a wide range of services beyond traditional mail, such as online postage purchasing and package tracking. Despite these advancements, the core mission remains: delivering mail and packages to individuals and businesses nationwide.