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Most of the photos on this site were extracted from reference images (high-resolution tiffs, 20 to 200 megabytes in size) from the Library of Congress research archive. (To query the database click here.) Many were digitized by LOC contractors using a Sinar studio back. They are adjusted by your webmaster for contrast and color in Photoshop before being downsized and turned into the jpegs you see here.

 
 
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VINTAGRAPH • WPA • WWII • SUMMER IN ITALY, 1951

City Post Office: 1923

City Post Office: 1923

Washington, D.C., circa 1923. "City Post Office." This building, completed in 1914 next to Union Station, is now home of the National Postal Museum. National Photo Company Collection glass negative. View full size.

 

Columbia, South Carolina

This reminded me of a similar photo taken by my grandfather, around the same time. This was the sorting room of the Main Post Office on Gervais Street. The building now houses the South Carolina Supreme Court.

Postal Inspectee

When I started in '92, inspectors' galleries were explained in orientation. The idea was you never knew if you were being monitored so don't do anything wrong, ever. I got used to them pretty quickly and rarely thought about whether I was being watched. Someone in my office got caught stealing credit cards though, so they did get used.

I like the spittoons. There's one to the left of the guy working the case and another at the next case.

More on inspectors' galleries

When I said "all post offices," I should have said "all post offices of a certain size." The little dinky one I started out in in 1968 was not so equipped. As far as abuses or potential for abuses, galleries indeed did have ports that permitted views into changing rooms and even restrooms. The 1932-vintage building I worked in had ports in the bathroom whose openings had been covered over at some point, possibly in response to the complaints of Rep. Hechler quoted in the article stanton_square posted. Certainly such installations were unpopular with the unions. The gallery over the workroom floor was used to catch an employee who was stealing from mail in one facility at which I worked, sometime in the late 1980s.

A Cramped, Distasteful Job

Kudos to tterrace for the instructive explanation of inspectors' galleries. I had no idea these were a standard feature of all post offices.


Washington Post, Jun 19, 1960

Legislator Lashes Use of Peepholes
In Post Offices to 'Spy' on Employees

By Jerry Landauer, Staff Reporter

Rep. Ken Hechler (D-W.Va.) stood in the House of Representatives yesterday, waved a copy of George Orwell's "1984," and denounced peepholes in post offices.

The Congressman said he had just learned that post offices are equipped with "one-way" glass panels and other special devices through which inspectors watch employees at work, at lunch and in washrooms.

It is all very insulting, degrading, Gestapo-like, un-American and expensive, Hechler asserted. Worst of all, he said, inspectors have misused peepholes to spy on union meetings and embarrass employees.

"Lookout galleries" have been in existence since 1875 and have been built into every post office. They are not secret and their deterrent effect on thieves is massive, the authorities contended.

In the Washington City Post Office on N. Capitol street, Garner said, inspectors mount ladders or elevators to narrow passageways lining the outside of walls near the ceiling and look through small shuttered windows or one-way mirrors. He said it is a cramped, distasteful job.

Inspectors' Gallery

The long structure running down the length of the room below the ceiling as well as the shorter ones joining it at right angles are inspectors' galleries, used to observe workers when mail theft is suspected. What appear to be vents are actually viewing ports. Later versions used slits of one-way glass. The little circular concave depressions on the underside of the galleries are also ports to provide a view directly below. Galleries like this are in place to this day in all post offices. Except for monitored access for maintenance, access to the galleries is restricted to Postal Inspectors, who have special keys. Though the employees were always aware of what the galleries were, they wouldn't know when they were actually being observed. The Postmaster's office, however, was equipped with an indicator lamp that lit when the galleries were in use - it was wired to the low-level illuminating lamps in the galleries.

Spectral sorters

Just as I've always suspected. Only one real man working -- with ghosts ripping apart packages in the back sorting area.

 
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Shorpy.com | History in HD is a vintage photo blog featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1950s. The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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