V-Mail: The WWII program that scanned letters onto microfilm, 1942-1945

During World War II, letters were essential for soldiers and sailors stationed abroad. The average soldier wrote six letters a week. It took 1 to 4 weeks for those letters to cross the sea.

Each letter received at home reassured loved ones that their soldier was still alive and when he wrote that letter.

For soldiers, the letter from home was the single biggest morale booster, and a force with high morale fights better.

The logistics of sending and delivering all these letters proved to be quite a challenge, especially when transporting mail across the Atlantic Ocean.

Mail sent via cargo ships was slow to arrive, taking up to a month. But the option of sending mail via cargo planes in less than two weeks was costly.

In addition, cargo space was at a premium (for critical weapons and supplies) on these aircraft, and the characters were heavy in both weight and space.

To find a solution to this problem, the Military Postal Service turned its attention to the British "Airgraph".

The airgraph was invented in the 1930s by the Eastman Kodak Company as a combination of Imperial Airways (now British Airways) and Pan-American Airways, to reduce weight and reduce the bulk of mail carried by air. was as a means.

Letters would be written on prefabricated forms, these forms would be censored and scanned onto microfilm, the microfilm would be carried by aircraft, and upon arrival, the letters would be printed on photo paper and delivered.

The US Military Postal Service adopted the process by renaming it "Victory Mail", or "V-Mail", and it proved highly effective.

The savings of this system were enormous; 2500 pounds of paper papers in 37 mail sacks could be condensed into only 45 pounds of film in one mail sack. In turn, this freed up space for more materials to supply the war effort.

The US further reduced waste by printing letters on only 60% of the scale. The use of V-mail also inadvertently deterred espionage; Since only photocopies of letters were being sent, invisible ink and microdots were rendered useless.

Although the V-mail system was only used between June 1942 and November 1945, more than 1 billion items were processed through these mediums.

An important part of the V-mail system was the use of a standardized stationery that combined letters and envelopes into a single piece of paper. Even without the microfilming, it was a great space-saving measure.

The form was a sheet specially designed by the Government Printing Office and provided free of charge by the post office at the rate of two sheets per person per day.

The way one wrote on the letter also played a big part in whether one would eventually be able to read the reduced version. Users of V-Mail were instructed: “Use typewriter, dark ink or dark pencil.

Blurred or small writing is not suitable for photographing. "Basic forms can contain up to 700 typed words.

V-mail had its drawbacks. It was somewhat limited in that only a certain number of words could be used. Since the photo prints were the size of the original letter, the final product was unreadable if the print was too small.

Some stores actually sold special "V-mail readers," magnifying glasses so that readers could understand the reduced print.

Another aspect of V-mail is that one cannot send attachments (at least initially) and cannot leave a personal impression in the form of a lipstick kiss on paper. The lipstick was referred to as a "scarlet scourge" because it would glue to the machines used to film the characters.

Despite its flaws, V-Mail was aided by marketing, which branded the use of V-Mail as a patriotic duty, and the use of the service increased over the years. There's no denying that the v-mail practice saved significant shipping space.

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