Postcards have always been one way to share an experience. But a century ago, they were virtually the only way to share an experience.
Recently we took a look at how postcards were the text messages of their day, focusing on the depth of emotion that Naval Station Great Lakes recruits were able to convey in only a few short sentences. But a look at the back of a postcard only tells half the story.
Today postcards are souvenirs. Their selling point is the gorgeous photo on the front. But that wasn’t always the case. A look back at the postcards from Naval Station Great Lakes a century ago shows that Ansel Adams certainly wasn’t plying his trade on the shore of Lake Michigan. Is this because Lake Michigan isn’t scenic? True, it isn’t the Sierra Nevada, but it can hold its own in a natural beauty contest.
Scenery wasn’t a part of these postcards because it wasn’t a part of recruit’s experiences. Most recruits wanted to show family and friends something from their day-to-day lives. Many of these postcards depict drills or reviews. Some depict specific events like parades or “human flags” like the one shown on the left.
Place mattered too. Even though the majority of NSGL postcards show recruits in training, most also show a portion of Naval Station Great Lakes itself. Whether it’s the front gate, Building One, or the officers’ quarters, the infrastructure of Naval Station Great Lakes was included on most postcards.
When one picture is all you get to show people, you want one that tells the whole story (or as much of it as possible). Think about this limitation the next time you’re creating a Facebook album or updating Flickr. What if you could only post one photo?