General Postcard Collection

“I will write when Walter is away climbing mountains in Virginia. Shall have lots of time then.  I wish you all could come and see us and this city. It is very different from most cities. Very pretty now.”

 Postcard dated July 12, 1908, General Postcard Collection,
Detre Library & Archives at the Heinz History Center

The General Postcard Collection (GPCC) consists of sixteen boxes of picture postcards from the early twentieth century to the present day.  Most are images of the Pittsburgh area but there are several boxes covering nearly every town and county in Pennsylvania.  Office buildings, museums, parks, street scenes, skylines, theaters, schools, churches, factories, and more are memorialized, as well as highways, rivers, bridges, tunnels, railroad stations, historical images, and other less conventional scenes. Postcards have long been a popular way for businesses to advertise as well, and thus many “trade” cards are also included in the collection, from Heinz and Westinghouse to department stores, restaurants, and small family businesses.

Soon after the U.S. Post Office authorized their use in 1898 and coinciding with the increasing popularity of photography, postcards were a convenient, inexpensive, and amusing way to send a small note along with a photo representing “home” to the recipient. They were printed and sold by postcard companies much as they are today, but anyone with a camera could also have their creations made into postcards for mailing. In this way, postcards document historical events. In addition to buildings, estates, and institutions that no longer exist, there are postcards memorializing devastating floods and those that depict images of child labor or workers in mines, steel mills and glass factories. While photographs in any form are a useful source for the researcher, what makes postcards unique are often the personal messages they contain. A mother expresses concern for an ailing child, a friend hopes another will visit Pittsburgh soon, while another recommends a restaurant in which they recently ate – postcards are not merely static images, they are poignant dynamic snapshots of a life now gone, with all of the joy and sadness that an ordinary life contains.

Further Research

Finding Aid: General Postcard Collection (GPPC)

Secondary Sources

Ashworth, Ralph, Greetings From Pittsburgh, A Picture Postcard History, New York: The Vestal Press, Ltd., 1992, F159.3.P643 A84 1992 q

Miller, George, A Pennsylvania Album: Picture Postcards, 1900-1930, University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1979, F150 .M648 long