On February 27, 1861, the US Congress passed an act that allowed privately printed cards, weighing one ounce or under, to be sent in the mail. That same year John P. Charlton (other places seen as Carlton) copyrighted the first postcard in America. Since then the way we share our travels with friends and family has changed, but maybe not as dramatically as we think. In many ways the original postcards resemble social media of today.
Originally postcards contained an image on one side and space for an address on the other without room for a message.
In 1907 Universal Postal Congress, the legislative body of the Universal Postal Union decreed that postal cards produced by governments of member nations could have messages on the left half of the address side. Much like Twitter the space for writing comments was limited.
Modern photochrom-style postcards first appeared in 1939 when the Union Oil Company began to carry them in their western service stations. The photochrom postcards are in color, and their images closely resemble photographs. The images on these types of cards may have inspired the popular Instagram filters of today for making your road trip photos look ultra saturated.
In modern times postcards have fallen out of favor and been replaced by endless image posting on Facebook and other social media. I can tell you from personal experience that receiving a postcard from a friend is a great thrill.
Stop in to the Western History department to browse our collection of historic postcards from the west.
Learn more about the history of the American post card at the Smithsonian's website.