The introduction and development of the picture postcard at the turn of the century provided a new means of fast and inexpensive communication that not only kept family and friends connected and informed, but portrayed the full spectrum of the world. Urban and rural landscapes, history, entertainment, commerce, social interaction, travel, and humor were all represented on postcards, as well as a broad range of viewpoints and sentiments.
The early years of the twentieth century witnessed significant changes in the United States; for some it was an era of great financial opportunities, but for many it was a time of struggle. Large numbers of European immigrants were arriving in the Eastern cities, and the westward progression of settlers brought dramatic transformations to the landscape.
The new picture postcards were immediately and whole-heartedly adopted as the social media of the day at every level of society. They provided not only an efficient means of communication, but the work of artists, illustrators, and printers brought beautiful images of everything from holiday greetings to exotic locales into the homes of rich and poor alike. Untold millions of postcards were exchanged and collected in household albums before WWI.
In the first few years of the new century, Eastman Kodak produced inexpensive portable cameras formatted to accommodate the size of the ubiquitous postcard, and suddenly, a more personalized black and white photograph could accompany a message. Commercial photographers produced photo postcard of local scenes and amateur photographers "snapped" pictures of family, friends, occupations, adventures, and all the varied moments of their lives. Postcards with actual black and white photographs are referred to today as real photo postcards, as opposed to those printed from photographs or other artwork.
When postcard writers added their own messages and observations to the photos, they generated firsthand accounts in a combination of image and text, just as the internet’s social media would do a hundred years later.
The first two decades of the twentieth century have been called the “Golden Age of Postcards,” but, as the focus of the world shifted to the war in Europe and telephone systems expanded, the postcard gradually evolved from an essential part of the information grid to an occasional novelty or souvenir item.
Despite the rapid rise and fall of the postcard era, their astounding volume of consumption and utilization generated a large archive of historical data. Today's collections of old postcards offer countless doorways into the past through the unique accounts of ordinary citizens who were eyewitnesses to history.
Life is not a matter of holding good cards, but of playing a poor hand well. –– Robert Louis Stevenson