24 June 2014

V-Mail Love-Letter Addendum

In last Friday’s guest blog post, Love Letters, Miriam Biskin mentioned “V-Mail,” which is an interesting topic in itself. V-Mail, the V signifying the Victory symbol, was introduced during World War II to handle the huge increase in overseas mail to and from members of the Armed Forces. Everything to support the war effort had to be transported by ship or aircraft, and space was at a premium. 

V-Mail poster prepared by the U.S. Government Printing
Office, 1942. (www.loc.gov/pictures/item/93511448/)
Developed and operated by the forerunner of the U.S. Postal Service in conjunction with the former War and Navy departments, V-Mail evolved during the war but always used standardized stationery that combined the envelope and space for the message on opposite sides of one sheet.

Message side of V-Mail stationery.
Circle in upper left was for censor’s stamp.
Envelope side of V-Mail stationery.
Correspondents wrote in dark ink or pencil in the designated spaces, folded and sealed the sheet with the envelope showing, and added postage or substitute documentation--with the proper labels, the service was free to the military.

Letters were opened by machines at the V-Mail stations and normally microfilmed for transport. (Military authorities censored the letters and also decided if they would be microfilmed or sent in their original V-Mail format.) After transport and receipt at a V-Mail station, the microfilmed V-Mail was printed as 4-inch by 5-inch photographs and forwarded to the addressee in specially designed envelopes.

V-Mail letters being scanned.
V-Mail on microfilm.
The weight and volume of a V-Mail letter were less than half that of a regular sheet of stationery and envelope. If microfilmed, the weight and volume were reduced to about 3% of that of the original V-Mail letter. One example given by the Historian of the U.S. Postal Service is that 150,000 V-Mail letters weighed 1500 pounds and filled 22 mail sacks, while the microfilmed letters weighed only 45 pounds and fit in a single mail sack.

It’s estimated that over a billion V-Mail letters were delivered between June 1942 and 1 November 1945, when V-Mail service ended.



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