Most people love to go on vacation. A common tradition while visiting other places is sending postcards.

Have you ever sent a postcard? It’s a meaningful way to remind your loved ones that even when you’re far away, you’re thinking of them and feeling thankful for their presence in your life.

Sending postcards has maintained its popularity through the years. But where did this tradition originate?

Who sent the first postcard? Where did this practice begin?

In this article, we’ll provide a brief history of postcards. The next time you walk into a souvenir shop to purchase a little handwritten card to send home, you can think about the long history that has led to this special practice.

Origins and History of Postcards

Postcards are certainly not a modern development. They don’t need much technology to make it from Point A to Point B.

Because of this, they’ve been around for hundreds of years. They were popular beginning a few centuries ago and have maintained their usefulness ever since!

What Came Before Postcards?

Were postcards the first type of mail that was sent? Of course not!

Before sending postcards, people simply sent cards and letters through the mail with the proper postage attached. They were just cards mailed normally and were not the flat piece of paper with a significant or appealing photo like we know today.

However, one of the types of mail that are believed to have led to the development of the cards we know today is the printed picture envelope.

In the early to mid-1800s and before, people began to mail envelopes that had pictures printed directly onto the outside. Many think this is where the idea came from. People eventually simplified it down and removed the envelope altogether.

Early Days

The 1840s are thought to be the source of the very earliest cards.

However, the first official postcard dates back to 1861. Congress passed a law that allowed cards that were privately printed to be sent in the mail. The paper had to weigh under one ounce in order to be accepted.

The same law, allowing British citizens to sell picture cards, was not passed in Britain until 1894!

Later that same year, John Charlton (or Carlton) took out a copyright on the very first postcard in America. The origin of postcards outside the US is not known, though other cultures may have produced something similar.

When the postcard patent was purchased in 1861, postcards began to be commercially available to the masses. A man named H. L. Lipman created Lipman’s Postal Cards and the industry was born.

His designs were very plain. In fact, the only real decoration was a scrolling pattern around the border. However, the format of writing the address on one side and the message on the other was born.

This is the way things worked for quite some time.

The Early 1900s

By the early 1900s, these humble little flat pieces of mail had become a major trend. Some would even call it a phenomenon.

People used this type of mail for all kinds of messages — no longer were they reserved just for special occasions. You could say that postcards were the very first form of social media!

The designs on these cards began to be more intricate and impressive. Some were even cut into special shapes that represented the destination somehow.

These cards were usually mailed with a separate label attached to the card with string, almost like a luggage tag. The label contained the address of the recipient and a postage stamp.

The lucky addressee of the postcard would receive a special tangible gift in the mail that they could treasure and preserve for years to come.

Changing Style

As the early 1900s rolled on, this also served as the period where postcard format began to change. The popularity of the card with an attached tag began to decline.

In its place, the postcard began to change its format. A decree was put out that allowed the address and the message to be written on the same side of the card.

People began to write cards with the address on the right side of the card and the handwritten message on the left. On the other side of the card, a full-size photo could be displayed.

Having a divided back made it easier to write full-length messages but still send large, beautiful photos of the destination. This change is what led to what is considered the golden age of postcards.

This is also the time that began to see actual photos being displayed on postcards. This is partly due to the Kodak camera being able to print postcard-sized photos.

The special postcard camera printed photos with a divided back for a message, address, and place to affix postage.

War Time: Essential for Morale

When the major world wars began, postcards further secured their relevance and usefulness.

Deployed soldiers could send their loved ones simple, quick messages home. They didn’t have to sit down for hours to pen a letter. Instead, they could communicate back home more regularly, displaying their love on a more day to day basis.

These cards were usually made of silk mesh, earning them the nickname silks. The loved ones at home who received them got not only a message from far away but a keepsake item they could hold onto on the hardest days.

In one sense, postcards helped America get through the war. They were very important for morale, both at home and abroad. The postal service worked to deliver them quickly so that families could feel closer to one another.

They helped families stay more connected and feel assured by hearing from their soldier on a more frequent basis.

The Humble Postcard Lives On

As time went on, postcards changed material and form, but they have maintained their popularity.

Of course, there are periods of time when they become either outdated or super trendy. They’re not always en vogue, but people still send them regularly, even today in our digital focused world.

At different points in history, they were printed with white borders, printed on linen, and printed in photochrom style. Photochrom is a color style that resembles a real photograph.

Though the development and release of e-cards in the 1990s did affect how often people used postcards as a way to interact with friends and family, e-cards did not totally eliminate the practice of mailing altogether.

Today, mailing a postcard is not used as the quickest way to communicate. Snail mail is called snail mail for a reason! Still, they make for perfect souvenirs to send to faraway family and friends.

How to Send a Postcard

Mailing a postcard is no different from sending any other type of mail.

There’s nothing to it: you’ll simply need to stick on the right amount of postage and drop your card off at the postal service. This can either be through a standalone box or heading straight to the post office yourself.

Make sure to write the address completely and accurately. Double check to make sure every necessary element is there so there will be no problems getting the item delivered to its intended destination.

When penning your message, make sure to sign it with your name so that the recipient knows who sent it. There will not be a return address on your postcard, so make sure they’ll be able to know that it came from you.

Lastly, did you know there are special postcard stamps? These cost less than regular stamps because postcards weigh less than regular mail, and therefore don’t cost as much to send.

Make sure to purchase a postcard stamp for sending your card so that you don’t overpay for postage.

Need some tips for what to write in your postcards? Read on.

What to Write on Postcards

Wondering what you should write? You have limited space on the back of a postcard, so you’ll need to keep it super short and simple.

Some great items to include in your postcard message are a brief description of where you are, how things are going, and an expression of love. This gets the point across but doesn’t drag on.

Usually, your postcard will say somewhere on the front or back where you are or where you’re writing from.

If not, include something like, “Greetings from Rome, Italy!” Follow that up with “Loving the sunshine here and drinking way too many espressos as we wander the ancient streets in search of the Colosseum.”

Maybe make mention of your favorite food or a new experience you’ve tried on your trip. Talk about the most interesting thing that’s happened or a notable person you’ve met on your travels.

Send your love and then close out your postcard with your signature. You don’t have room for much more than that! Keep it simple and you’ll have time to write a lot of cards to all the people you care about most.

Ready to send photo postcards of your own? Design one now and send to your family and friends!


Hiya, I’m Maud. I’m an English girl who's moved to Berlin - because who wouldn’t fall in love with a country which has words like ‘Kummerspeck’ hidden around every corner... I love traveling and finding out the quirks of each country - and what better way to remember them than on a postcard?

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