A postcard with an image of the Old and New Courthouses in downtown Dayton is part of the Dayton Metro Library Collection. This card has a hand written greeting and post marks on the front. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY
Photo: Dayton Metro Library
Photo: Dayton Metro Library

Greetings from Dayton! How postcards shared Dayton through the years

Collection of postcards illustrate Dayton’s past

Greetings from Dayton, Ohio.

Postcards have been a popular way to share memories of visits to the Gem City for decades.

The Dayton Metro Library has collected more than 800 postcards depicting landmarks, events and scenes of the area in black-and-white and vivid color.

A postcard with an image of the Old and New Courthouses in downtown Dayton is part of the Dayton Metro Library Collection. This card has a hand written greeting and post marks on the front. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY
Photo: Staff Writer

The earliest origins of postcards, according to the Smithsonian Institution Archives, were “mailed cards.” Simply put, cards sent through the mail that people attached postage to.

The United States Congress passed an act in 1861 that allowed privately printed cards – weighing less than an ounce – to be mailed.

In 1872 Congress passed legislation approving government production of postal cards with one side dedicated for the address and the other for a message. These cards cost a penny to mail, while privately produced cards cost two cents.

Postcards documented the landmarks of the day that are no longer with us. Steele High School, topped by American flags, resembles a castle. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY
Photo: Staff Writer

In the early 1900s most postcards were printed with images, and some left room for messages on the front.

In Dayton, colored pictures of a roadster and pedestrians traveling along the Washington Street Bridge and a picturesque scene of a lake at the Civil War “Soldier’s Home” were popular correspondence.

Postcards also documented the landmarks of an earlier era that are no longer with us.

Steele High School, topped by American flags, resembles a castle, the Union Station clock tower rises above railroad tracks and scores of children play near a vivid blue wading pool at Bomberger Park.

A postcard scene of Main Street is part of the Dayton Metro Library’s collection. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY
Photo: Staff Writer

A major design change occurred in 1907 – it was now possible to leave a written message on the left half of the address side of the card. This change ushered in the “Golden Age of Postcards,” according to the Smithsonian Institution Archives.

Many of the postcards in the library’s collection have a white border surrounding the image. American printers used the technique to save on ink costs during World War I.

The postcard images from Dayton vary. Cards displayed the downtown Hotel Holden, which boasted it was only one block from the bus station and the Union Depot.

A postcard scene of Bomberger Park in Dayton is part of the Dayton Metro Library’s collection. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY
Photo: Staff Writer

A postcard of a crowd of people on the National Cash Register campus commemorates “the delivery of the 1,000,000th National Cash Register,” and another documents people canoeing at White City Park, a Dayton amusement area popular before the 1913 flood destroyed it.

Printing progress continued to evolve. Postcards produced in the 1930s looked as though they were printed on linen. The linen look morphed into a “modern photochrom-style” according to the Smithsonian research.

A roadster and pedestrians travel the picturesque Washington Street Bridge in Dayton. DAYTON METRO LIBRARY
Photo: Staff Writer

Though World War II slowed production for a time, the photograph-like cards gained in popularity and are what we would recognize today in a glossy image of the Dayton skyline framed with Dave Hall Plaza in the foreground.

The process is still used today but postcards have transformed into more common souvenirs rather than a way to keep in touch.

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