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V-Mail became valuable means of communication during World War II

Bob Cox • Sep 22, 2019 at 12:00 PM

During the latter years of World War II, V-Mail became a popular way to correspond with a loved one serving overseas. V-mail consisted of miniaturized messages reproduced by micro-photography from 16mm film.

The system of microfilming letters was based on the use of special V-mail letter-sheets, which were a combination of letter and envelope. The letter-sheets were constructed and gummed so as to fold into a uniform and distinctively marked envelope.

The user wrote the message in the limited space provided, added the name and address of the recipient, folded the form, affixed postage, if necessary, and mailed the letter. The V-mail correspondence was then reduced to thumb-nail size on microfilm.

The rolls of film were flown across the world and then developed at destinations closest to the recipient's position. Finally, individual facsimiles of the V-mail letter-sheets, which were about one-quarter the original size, were then mailed and delivered to the addressee.

The development of the V-Mail system reduced the time it took a soldier to receive a letter by a month - from six weeks by boat to 12 days or less by air.

However, the main advantage of V-Mail was its compact nature. Reduction in the size and weight of the letters translated into more space for crucial military supplies on cargo planes. One roll of film weighing about 7 ounces could hold over 1,500 letters.

Putting that another way, two pounds of microfilm replaced 100 pounds of letters! Over a billion letters were sent from the U.S. to military post offices and over 510 million pieces were received from military personnel abroad) were sent via V-mail between 1942 and 1945. Think of it as the earliest form of e-mail.

Americans on the home front were encouraged by the government and private businesses to use V-Mail. Letters from home were compared to "a five minute furlough," and advertisements that instructed how, when, and what to write in a V-Mail reached a peak in 1944. Letters were to be cheerful, short, and frequent. V-Mail made it possible for servicemen halfway across the world to hear news from home on a weekly basis.

The V-Mail instructions are as follows: “V-Mail service provides a most rapid means of communications. If addressed to a place where photographing service is not available the original letter will be dispatched by the most expeditious means.” Also:

1. Further instructions say to write the entire message plainly on the other side within marginal lines. Print the name and address in the two spaces provided. Addresses of members of the Armed Forces should show full name, complete military or naval addresses, including grade or rank, serial number, unit to which assigned or attached and Army post office in care of the appropriate postmaster or appropriate fleet post office.

2. Fold, seal, and deposit in any post office letter drop or street letter box. Enclosures must not be placed in this envelope. V-Mail letters may be sent free of postage by members of the Armed Forces.

3. When sent by others postage must be prepaid at domestic rates (3 cents ordinary mail, 6 cents if domestic air mail service is desired when mailed in the U.S.). (Post Office Department Permit 121).

Reach Bob Cox at [email protected] or go to www.bcyesteryear.com.

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