The Smithsonian's National Postal Museum brings to life the colorful history of the nation's mail service through hands on exhibitions and engaging public programs. The less-known museum is a part of the Smithsonian Institution and features engaging exhibits about sending, receiving and delivering mail. Six galleries explore topics ranging from the post office system in colonial and early America to the Pony Express to modes of mail transportation and artistic mailboxes. Visitors can explore the history of the postage stamp and marvel over thousands of stamps and postal artifacts.
The National Postal Museum atrium has a 90-foot-high ceiling with three vintage airmail planes suspended overhead, a reconstructed railway mail car, an 1851 stagecoach, a 1931 Ford Model A postal truck and a contemporary Long Life Vehicle postal truck. The museum offers special exhibits and programs including workshops, films, family events, lectures, and guided tours. More than 40,000 books and archival documents are housed at the National Postal Museum Library which is open to the public by appointment only.
The museum gift shop sells stamps, books and other gift items. This is a great attraction for kids because many of the exhibits are interactive and you can see most of the exhibits in an hour or two.
See Photos of the National Postal Museum
Getting to the National Postal Museum
Address: 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE Washington, DC (202) 357-2700
The museum is located about 4 blocks off of the National Mall in the old Post Office building next to Union Station. The closest Metro station is Union Station. More than 2,000 parking spaces are located in the parking garage at Union Station. See a map and driving directions.
Open daily except December 25.
Regular hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Permanent Exhibit Highlights
- Binding the Nation - The exhibit provides an overview of mail service in America from colonial times through the 19th century, stressing the importance of written communication in the young nation.
- Systems at Work -The exibit recreates the paths of letters, magazines, parcels, and other mail as they travel from sender to recipient over the last 200 years.
- Moving the Mail - Faced with the challenge of moving the mail quickly, the postal service looked to trains, automobiles, airplanes, and buses to deliver the mail.
- Mail Call - The gallery tells the history of military mail from the American Revolution to 2010: How does this mail reach its destination? What roles does it play? Why does it influence morale? The exhibition explores the great lengths taken to set up and operate postal services under extraordinary circumstances. It also features letters that reveal the expressions, emotions, and events of the time.
- Customers and Communities - This gallery focuses on the modern changes in mail service introduced at the turn of the 20th century.
- Pony Express: Romance vs. Reality - This exhibition examines fictional and actual stories from the history of the world's best known mail carriers.
- William H. Gross Stamp Gallery - The 12,000-square-foot gallery is the largest stamp collection in the world.
History of the National Postal Museum
From 1908 until 1963, the collection was housed in the Smithsonian’s Arts and Industries Building on the National Mall. In 1964, the collection was relocated to the National Museum of History and Technology (now the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History), and its scope expanded to include postal history and stamp production. The National Postal Museum was established as a separate entity Nov. 6, 1990, and its current location opened to the public in July 1993.
The Smithsonian Museums in Washington DC are world class attractions covering a wide range of subjects. To learn more about all of the museums, see Smithsonian Museums (A Visitor's Guide)