If you’ve never checked out the National Postal Museum (or didn’t even know it existed), you’re not alone–many locals overlook this NoMa gem for its flashier counterparts on the National Mall. But, for kids, this free Smithsonian Institution is a slam dunk since the museum encourages visitors to feel, climb into, sit in, and throw–yes, throw!–many of its exhibits. In addition to a ridiculously extensive stamp collection (little stamp lovers will be in heaven), read on to find out some of the museum’s other kid-approved features.
Documenting America’s postal history from 1673, the museum, which is housed in an old post office, relies heavily on interactive exhibits to get its point across. Sporty types will like the skee-ball-esque mail sort display, where kids can try to toss packages into their proper bin, mail clerk-style. Other interactive stops include one on how to identify fingerprints with a magnifying glass and another on matching line-up photos to “wanted” posters. You can even try (unsuccessfully) to forge a signature on a money order. Tsk-tsk.
The Wheel Deal
As soon as you enter the museum’s main hall you’ll notice the variety of post vehicles–a re-created railway mail car, an 1851 mail and passenger coach, a replica airmail beacon tower, and a 1931 Ford Model A city mail truck. Don’t forget to look up. Dangling from the atrium’s 90 foot ceiling are three mail carrying planes. But it’s the big rig in the corner of the hall that makes the mini-mail driver’s blood boil. Kids can sit inside the semi’s cabin, turn the wheel, and tinker with the dozens of buttons and switches.
And They Call It Puppy Love
Owney the dog, which was the postal service mascot in the 1800s, is on display–stuffed and preserved, but you might want to keep that fact to yourself–and kids will love seeing all of the mail-loving pooch’s medals that he scored for helping to keep mailrooms across the country in check. The scruffy dog garnered so many accolades that mail clerks had to create a special harness for him to wear.
Conveniently located across the street from Union Station, you can pack up the kids and hop on the metro (Red Line) to visit this must-see museum without having to wrestle with D.C.’s side street parking. After your visit—whether you drove or took metro, Union Station is a great place to grab a bite to eat with the whole family. Kid-friendly lunch spots include La Pain Quotidien, Johnny Rockets, and Deliciously Dangerous Pie Bakery.
2 Massachusetts Ave., NE (Union Station)
Hours: Daily, 10 am-5:30 pm
Have you visited the National Postal Museum with kids? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Photos courtesy of Ayren Jackson-Cannady