Remember when the Governor of Maine declared April 19, 1916 as Maine Postcard Day? Of course not. Who alive today would recall just how important postcards were to communication, and the economy of Maine, in those early days of the 20th Century. But the Penobscot Marine Museum, in Searsport, remembers and is marking April 19 as the 100th anniversary of Postcard Day.
The proclamation by Gov. Oakley Curtis was not just about pretty pictures taken with large format cameras. It was a calculated attempt to attract more tourists to Maine. The governor recognized that the state’s bucolic summer climate was perfect for the consumptive crowds in congested southern England and the mid-Atlantic.
“It was an early effort to encourage tourism to Maine but sending postcards to friends and family from away inviting them to visit our beautiful state,” said Kevin Johnson, photo archivist at the Penobscot Marine Museum.
Curtis wrote in his proclamation: “Whereas, Maine’s many beauties, rich natural resources, the manifold delights of her seacoast, her inland lakes, her marvelous wooded waterways for canoe trips, and the health giving retreats in the North Woods should be known to even greater numbers than those who already come within her borders....”
According to the marine museum, an estimated 200 to 300 billion postcards were produced and mailed world-wide from the 1890s to the 1920s. We find them in second-hand shops, attics, old bookstores. The notes are cryptic and often mysteries to readers 100 years after they were scribbled, but they are a solid representation of what life was like in Maine then. Sort of like how our abbreviated emails will be considered 100 years from now, if anyone really wants to read those old computer files.
Johnson has written about book about the Eastern Illustrating & Publishing Co. the large collection of 50,000 negatives that were acquired by the museum after sitting for decades in the basement of Union Hall in Rockport, getting water damaged, and worse, pilfered.
"Postcards were the absolute rage at that point in time,” he wrote in his new book, Maine on Glass. “On one day in September of 1906, 200,000 post cards were mailed from Coney Island. Comparable to email, texting or Instagram, the postcard was a new informal way of communicating with brief text and an image. And it was the perfect compliment to a time when more people were in flux as the invention of the automobile and the shift to an urban society from a rural one put people on the move. Additionally, a large number of immigrants were entering the country, and tourism was becoming more popular. Postcards were the easiest way to keep in touch, and they quickly became collectibles and souvenirs. In 1905, seven billion postcards were sent worldwide. In 1913, the number of postcards sent in the US alone was 968,000,000, an average of more than seven per person."
For the record: The Penobscot Marine Museum did ask current Gov. Paul LePage to re-proclaim today, April 19, 2016, as Postcard Day, but he said no.