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Using Postcards as Historical Evidence


Eastern Illinois University

Charleston, Illinois


Coles County



Additional Resources

History of Postcards

  • The original postcard was copyrighted on December 17, 1861 by John P. Charlton in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These cards have a blank front and backs, with three lines on the back for the address and a stamp box and were meant for sending messages or rapid correspondence.

  • The U.S. Postal Act, June 8, 1872, authorized the printing and sale of the first government postcard. It was instructed that these cards would be sold for one cent each and be used to facilitate correspondence, used for orders, invitations, and acknowledgments at a cheaper price than a traditional letter.

  • The popularization of the picture postcard, the postcards known today, was developed for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. These first picture postcards were developed by Charles W. Goldsmith and made by the American Lithographic Company of New York. These postcards consisted of colored lithograph prints on top of a white background.

  • In the decades preceding the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition postcards continued to be produced to commemorate expositions across the country.

  • Companies that produced postcards existed across the United States and throughout the world. Firms were established from New York to San Francisco. However, one of the more well-known companies and one of the largest operations, Curt Teich Printing Company began in Chicago in 1898 and supplied postcards until their close in 1974.

  • Curt Teich was known for producing views of the United States, territories, and Canada. After World War I it would have been hard to find anyone who did not buy postcards for genuine pleasure. People preserved them carefully in their albums, or they posted them to their friends or relations, in the expectation of receiving others in return.





History of Postcards

Anatomy of a Postcard

Postcards as Evidence