US Stamps

Oct. 10 Sundman Lecture will cover first U.S. transcontinental mail

September 24, 2018 11:30 AM

  • This Butterfield Overland Mail Co. notebook from the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C., will be on display during the 15th Maynard Sundman lecture at the museum. National Postal Museum image, used with permission.

By Linn's Staff

The 15th Maynard Sundman lecture will take place Oct. 10 at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, 2 Massachusetts Ave. NE, in Washington, D.C.

The hour-long talk by historian and author Glen Sample Ely will begin at noon in the museum’s Discovery Center.

Admission is free, and no reservation is required.

Ely is the author of The Texas Frontier and the Butterfield Overland Mail, 1858-1861, and the subject of his talk is the nation’s first transcontinental mail service.

A book signing will take place immediately following the lecture.

“In 1857, the U.S. Postmaster General awarded a $600,000 annual contract to the Overland Mail Co. to build the 19th-century equivalent of the modern interstate highway system, stimulating passenger traffic, commercial freighting and business,” according to the museum.

“Company president John Butterfield was the namesake of this 2,800-mile mail route, which became known as the Butterfield Overland Mail Road. Many of the people living and working on the frontier during this period had connections to the mail line, and the U.S. Post Office had a large economic impact on the region.”

Ely’s presentation features little known postal history, according to the museum, and will take the audience “on a journey aboard a Butterfield stagecoach for a firsthand look at America’s rowdy frontier and those who shaped it.”

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In his research, Ely documented 740 miles of the mail route from the Red River to El Paso, Texas.

Calvin Mitchell, assistant curator at the museum, said: “Everyone is aware of the legendary accomplishments of the Pony Express, but two-and-a-half years earlier, from 1858 to 1861, the underappreciated Butterfield Overland Mail Route played a critical role in transporting mail, supplies and new settlers to remote places in the vast American West. Dr. Ely’s lecture will address the significant contributions this route made to the development of the American West.”

The museum will display an 1859 employee notebook issued by the Butterfield Overland Mail Co. The notebook contains a foldout map, instructions to employees regarding personal behavior, and a travel schedule.

The National Postal Museum’s Maynard Sundman lecture series was established in 2002 through a donation by Sundman’s sons David and Donald. The Sundman lectures feature talks on philately and related subjects by authors and other experts.