A letter is dropped into a mailbox. How does it go from there to its destination? The answer to that and other questions unfolds in Systems at Work, a new permanent exhibit at the Smithsonians National Postal Museum
The exhibit recreates the paths of letters, magazines, parcels and other pieces of mail as they have traveled from sender to recipient over the past 200 years. In 1808, a stagecoach carries newspapers and the latest news to people hundreds of miles away. Two hundred years later, the integration of ZIP codes, barcodes, intelligent mail, automated sorting machines and advanced technologies enable the U.S. Postal Service to process and deliver mail to 150 million homes and businesses across the country.
At the exhibits core is a 270-degree high-resolution film experience that puts visitors into the middle of the mammoth world of a mail-processing center, surrounded by examples of automated machinery that moves mail through the system at astonishing speeds.
Interactive moments are spread through the galleries challenging visitors to process mail at various points in history. Tossing packages into mail pouches as mail clerks did in 1917, keying letters on a computerized version of a multiple position letter-sorting machine operated in 1968 and engaging handheld intelligent mail devices to scan barcodes are activities that will inform, educate, enlighten and challenge exhibit visitors. Visitors receive a postcard to gather cancellation marks from various eras to take away from the exhibit.
The most commonly asked question by our visitors concerns how mail gets from somewhere else in the country to their home, said Allen Kane, director of the museum. This exhibit answers that question and shows the impressive technology that enables the Postal Service to deliver almost half of the worlds mail.
At a time when Americans are debating the very nature of their postal system, this exhibit reminds us of what it does, and why it has been a central part of American life, said Nancy Pope, curator of the exhibit.
The exhibit is made possible by Motorola Solutions Foundation.