By Nancy Pope, Historian and Curator
When was the last time you wrote down anything? Do you always leave notes to yourself and others by texting? Then it’s time to put down the phone and pick up a pen. January 23 is National Handwriting Day.
A great way to celebrate the day might be to write a letter. You remember letter writing, right? Those missives that always made the trip to the mailbox brighter. Well it’s your turn to make someone else’s day. Write a friend. Write a relative. Just get out that piece of paper and pen, pull up a chair and start writing.
Until the late 20th century, letter writing was the main form of communication between family and friends separated by distance. Even when we used phones for local calls, those high out-of-town rates were just too expensive for most people to afford. Of course, now we can contact those people at the drop of a hat, we’re peeved when we don’t get immediate replies.
Today letters take a few days to get where they’re going, but that’s quite an improvement over the wait our great grandparents had, with letters taking weeks, and even months, to get from other continents to the U.S., or even across the U.S. before the transcontinental railroad opened up in 1869.
When you write a letter, not only will you be bringing a smile of surprise to someone, you will be doing your part to help historians. How? Well, the written record is critical to the job we do. Written information – diaries, letters, etc., from decades and centuries gone by better help us understand people and events. Future historians might have some tidbits to guide them, but Tweets and Instagram posts, even our Facebook posts will no doubt fade into electronic dust decades from now. But those letters may still be tucked away in your grandchildren’s attics.
So no more stalling! Get that pen and paper and get to work. You’ve got someone’s day to make.
Let the museum’s website help inspire you to get those letters written.
- Letter Writing in America
- Create Your Own Stationery
- War Letters: Lost and Found
- Letters Re-Create Moments In History
- Found: Letters from the Hindenburg
- Military Mail Stories at the Postal Museum