When mail ruled the day, postcards were a popular way to communicate. Picture postcards first came on the American scene during the 1893 Columbian Exposition. They quickly grew in popularity, and the decade from 1905-1915 marked a golden age for postcards. People frequently mailed them to each other and then saved them in albums. By the end of 1913, the U.S. Postal Service estimated that over nine hundred million postcards had been mailed. This fervor died down with the start of World War I, but postcards did continue to be used. From 1930-1945, linen postcards, which were printed on paper containing higher cotton fiber content, were popular. Today’s postcards are photocrom-style and feature colorful photographs. These postcards are frequently purchased as souvenirs and less often as a means to quickly communicate.
Postcards have historical value because they capture popular sites and attitudes of specific time periods. The messages that people wrote to each other can help us understand what mattered to them. The images on the front also show us popular fashions, the way places looked and the consumer goods that were available. Here are a few samples from the Pink Palace’s postcard collection. They show us buildings that have been torn down, a swimming pool that was filled in and companies that closed. They also underscore how young Memphis’ current skyline is.
Caroline Mitchell Carrico works in the Exhibit Department at the Memphis Pink Palace Museum. She has a graduate degree in history from The University of Memphis, and her favorite artifacts are the Cold War civil defense supplies.