When America's sons and daughters are stationed overseas, especially during wartime, contact with loved ones back home becomes an essential part of life. During the Second World War, a new mail processing method was introduced to handle the increased amount of overseas mail exchanges.
"V" for "Victory," a popular WW II symbol, was the inspiration for the name of the new-fangled correspondence style. V-Mail used standardized stationery and microfilm processing to produce lighter, smaller cargo. Space was made available for other war supplies and more letters could reach military personnel faster around the globe.
The government in cooperation with commercial advertisers promoted the use of V-Mail service as patriotic: Letter writers could simultaneously boost morale with words from home and help save vital shipping space. Mail usually came in a variety of shapes, sizes, and weight, but V-Mail required standardized stationery. The single-page letter sheet was specially designed so the uniform size and weight paper could be photographed onto 16 mm microfilm. Reduced to thumbnail size, between 1500 and 1800 letters could fit on a 90-foot long roll of film. Each reel weighed only four ounces.
The rolls of film were flown to prescribed destinations for developing at a receiving station near the addressee. Finally, each frame was "blown up" to about one-quarter the original size and facsimiles were printed for delivery. The microfilmed V-Mail offered such a drastic reduction in weight that officials estimated V-Mail saved up to 98% on cargo weight and space. The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 ordinary, one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack of V-Mail microfilm with the same number of letters. The weight was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45.
Where it had taken up to a month for standard mail delivery by ship, V-Mail delivery could take as little as twelve days or less using aircraft. Air transport also had the added benefit of minimizing the likelihood of enemy interception, although censors still insured that any potentially useful or damaging information was deleted from all messages. One final benefit was that letters could never be "lost in the mail" with serial numbers on the forms and originals held on file, any message that was lost in transit could be reproduced and sent to the addressee.
The Army reported that 1.25 billion V-Mail letters were microfilmed in the 41 months of operation between June 15, 1942 and November 1, 1945. In spite of the patriotic draw of V-Mail, most people still sent regular first-class mail. Military personnel received over 3.3 billion pieces of all types of mail in fiscal year 1945 alone. In that same time period, 333,327,952 V-Mail letters were dispatched overseas.
Annual Report of the Postmaster General for the Fiscal Year Ended June 30, 1945. Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office, 1946.
United States Army Service Forces. Adjutant General's Office. Army Postal Service During World War II. December 31, 1945.
United States Post Office Department. A Wartime History of the Post Office Department: World War II 1939-1945. Washington, DC: Post Office Department, 1951.
Walker, Frank S. "Mail Service for Our Armed Forces." The Postal Bulletin Vol. 63 No. 18450 (June 15, 1942): 1-5.