A Lesson in Postal History
By Lois K. Geller
It was a cold and snowy day in our nation's capital. I had just finished speaking at the Travel Learning Conference. My son, Paul, came by to tell me he had a real treat in store for me.
The snow in Washington, D.C., was 4 inches deep and looked as if it would get much worse. I silently hoped that the treat involved a fireplace and maybe chamomile tea, but I knew better. Just as I feared, the treat involved more of a Valley Forge experience. We donned heavy boots, bundled up and trudged through the suddenly cab-less streets.
As we approached Union Station, I thought about bolting for the train and heading back to New York, but Paul steered me across the street and into one of those big, white government-looking buildings. I noted the address in case I had to call for a dogsled: 2 Massachusetts Avenue NE.
"Ta da!" Paul announced. "Welcome to The National Postal Museum."
He's nuts, I thought.
"You'll love it," he said.
I loved it, especially the direct marketing exhibit, which is called "What's in the Mail for You?" The Smithsonian Institution, which runs the museum, really did themselves proud.
Visitors are greeted by a hologram of Aaron Montgomery Ward, the catalog pioneer. He looks real. Old-fashioned in a nice Midwestern way, but real. Mr. Ward is our guide for a terrific exhibit that really makes direct mail come alive for the layperson. And, I must admit, this jaded New Yorker found it kind of exciting.
"What's in the Mail for You?" begins with Montgomery Ward's desk, followed quickly by the story of his company, then the great early direct marketing companies like L.L. Bean, Tiffany and W. Atlas Burpee (the seed people).
You can tinker with all kinds of interactive exhibits, like checking out the demographics of your own zip code. There even is a section that shows you how to build your own direct mail campaign.