Monday, January 16, 2023


V-mail is short for Victory mail which was started during WWII. The name came about from the “V for Victory” symbol used during that time. It was used between June 1942 and November 1945 and over 1 billion items were sent this way. It was a way to provide quick mail service to and from soldiers overseas.

This way to deliver mail was new but the technology wasn’t. Microphotography had been used for business and banking since the 1850s. In 1935, Kodak began filming and publishing the New York Times on microfilm. The US Postal Service was keeping an eye on Britain’s mail service at the beginning of the ear. Britain used microphotography since 1941 and Queen Elizabeth sent the first Aerograph letter. That is when the US developed the V-mail system. In 1942, the US and Kodak had a contract for V-mail microfilming. President Franklin D. Roosevelt received the first two V-mails in June 1942.

The letter was written in a special form and photographed in microfilm. Then it is sent and reproduced and delivered. V-mail was given preferential sorting and transportation. On one side of the form, there was space for the message and on the other side were instructions for sending the letter. Writers had to use dark ink or a dark pencil, then fold and seal the envelope and apply postage. No enclosures were allowed but eventually, pictures of infants under a year old or born after the soldier had gone overseas was allowed.

V-mail reduced the weight of military mail which allowed more space for important cargo. Machines at V-Mail stations opened the letters and filmed at 2000 to 2500 an hour. Approximately 1600 letters would fit on a roll. Normally the letters would weigh 1500 lbs. and fill 22 mail sacks but the microfilmed letters only weighed 45 lbs. and fit in one sack.

Authorities would censor the letters and decide if the letter would be sent as is or filmed depending on the distance, mail volume, and space. When the V-mail was reproduced at the destination facility, it was printed out into 4x5 inch photos and forwarded in special War-Navy Department V-Mail penalty envelopes. The film was not destroyed until they were sure the letters were delivered and if they weren’t, they were reprinted and resent.

The Post Office separated mail by Army and Navy units and then delivered it to the appropriate V-Mail stations. V-Mail stations were established in New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and different places overseas. Soldiers could send personal letters including V-mail for free because of an Act of Congress in 1942. It cost civilians three cents to send a V-mail letter by surface mail or six cents by airmail to domestic V-mail stations. The airmail rate was raised to eight cents in 1944. The Post Office offered two sheets of this special stationary free each day per customer or customers could buy material from stores.

Many didn’t see V-mail as sending real letters though because it had its drawbacks. It limited the number of words that could be used so writers had to choose their words carefully. Also, since the photos were much smaller (about ¼ in size) than the original letter, sometimes the print would be unreadable if the print was too small. Some places sold magnifying glasses so readers could read the small print. Not only were enclosures not allowed, but lipstick kisses were also not allowed because lipstick would gum up the machines used to film the letters. Any dirty, damaged, or crinkled letters could not be microfilmed and had to be sent in their original form.

V-mail service ended on November 1, 1945, but customers could still use the V-mail stationary until supplies ran out in March 1946.

Class Activities:
  • Print out the V-mail stationery and have students write their own letters on them following the instructions.
  • Research “microfilming” and see how the process works.
  • Find the location of the V-mail stations on the map.
  • Make a visual of the difference in weight of regular letters vs. V-mail letters.
United State Postal Service

Original photo by Pat Hensley

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