Resizing Lifelines-Planning V-Mail

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Sailors aboard the USS Ranger queue to mail their Mother’s Day V-Mail greetings. National Archives (80-G-295-66815).
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In 1941 the British Post Office developed the Airgraph service to transport microfilmed mail for their armed forces.

Even before the United States officially entered World War II in 1941, the Post Office Department actively pursued contingency plans to handle wartime mail. In 1938 the Department initiated preparations for emergency mail service. With the last world war still vivid in the memories of many people, civilians and military personnel understood that the damaging effects of war could cause slow delivery, sluggish processing, and lost letters. The Department recognized the negative impact that the lapse in communication had on members of the military and their correspondents and they sought a system that was not only space-saving, but also one that insured efficient communication between troops and the home front.

After almost four years of planning, the Post Office Department had created a mail system that added more Army Post Offices. Additionally, the U.S. followed Great Britain’s Airgraph service and integrated microfilm technology into its wartime system.

On June 15, 1942 the Post Office announced its partnership with the War and Navy Departments to provide “V…-Mail” (V-Mail) for overseas communication between military personnel and their families and friends. V-Mail letters were copied onto microfilm, which was shipped overseas and reproduced at one quarter of the original size at a processing station where it was then delivered to the addressee.

The Letter V

Throughout its 41-month duration V-Mail acquired several different names.  By the birth of V-Mail, the letter V had become widely associated with the war slogan used by the Allied nations: “V for Victory.”  The name V…-Mail combines the letter with its Morse code symbol, three dots and a dash: “…-.”  Officially, V-Mail was also known as “Photomail.”

Advertising agencies capitalized on V-Mail’s name and its patriotic associations for the war effort.  Civilians and servicemen sometimes called the strange little letters “Funny Mail” and “Tiny Mail,” among other nicknames that noted the qualities which distinguished it from traditional missives.

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Packaging for V-Mail stationery.

V-Mail was not developed to replace standard mail, but rather it was to be supplemental and its use was optional. Postal and military officials encouraged the use of V-Mail because it was specifically designed to meet both shipping and mail needs with the goals:

  1. To reduce the weight and bulk of mail to and from the armed forces overseas.
  2. To save transportation space for vital war supplies.
  3. To provide the most expeditious possible dispatch and handling of mail.