Tuesday, November 11, 2014

If Dog Rabbit

These days, most correspondence is done by email, and most of those who use email think it’s something new.

It isn’t. Well, at least the mechanics of it isn’t.

Back during World War II, the government was faced with something of a dilemma. Letters from home were an important part of maintaining morale for the troops – but the more letters were coming from home, the more resources were needed to get the mail over there. Moving bales and bales of morale from the States to Europe and Asia quickly became a logistical problem.

The solution was what became known as V-mail, short for "victory mail." Instead of sending actual letters, people were encouraged to write their letters on special mailers which could be photographed and put on microfilm. After the microfilms were received in Europe, the letters would be printed (at about 1/4 of their original size) and distributed to the troops. Around 1,500 letters would fit on a single roll, as shown in this photograph from the National Archives:

There’s been a couple times here at the blog that the subject of Vmail has come up, most recently in the context of the Triangle Pencil Company/Triad discussion, which included these two:

There’s also leads "specially marked" for Vmail, such as these marketed by Eversharp:

I doubt there was anything special about the composition of the leads - it was likely nothing more than a softer lead that would leave a darker mark - better suited for photographing. Since we’re on the topic, I’ll also share this one, which is kind of cute but a bit outside my area of interest:

It’s sort of a different take on the "bullet pencil," but with a kind of cool plastic holder and an exposed eraser:

Recently I ran across this packet of unused Vmail mailers, and I thought since the subject has come up a couple times, I thought it might be worth sharing them with you here:

This packet is for "Wessel’s" brand Vmailers. I couldn’t find anything about a person named "Wessel" having invented this means of communication, and there are plenty of non-Wessel Vmail packets out there, so I think this was just one of many brands.

Inside the packet are a dozen of these:

Vmail ended as soon as the necessity for it did, at the end of World War II. The United States Post Office chose to abandon rather than capitalize on the technology of finding more efficient ways to transmit messages – whether you call it post-war excess, getting back to normal or the behavior of an agency with a monopoly on mail delivery. At a crucial point in the Post Office’s history, the agency chose to go back to the old way of doing things, rendering it vulnerable to the new technologies that would do virtually the same thing Vmail did – first facsimile transmissions, then email and texts.

What would have happened if the United States Post Office rather than private industry had followed through and taken Vmail to these next logical steps? Would the agency have the financial and logistical problems that cripple it today?

"If dog rabbit," as Janet says. It’s a great saying, short for "if the dog hadn’t stopped to pick up the bone, he might have caught the rabbit."

That’s short for it doesn’t matter what might have happened, since it didn’t.

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