When a letter is sent from Germany to Sweden, a fee of 90 euro cents is paid to the German postal service. But the Swedish mailman delivering the letter might have to travel long distances across dense archipelagos or barren rocky landscapes to get it to its destination. Isn't that a little unfair? Well, in return, the Swedish postal service receives the money for sending a letter from Sweden to Germany. So the countries, and ideally the whole world, just need to be in agreement.
The big idea for the establishment of the Universal Postal Union came from Heinrich von Stephan, a former Privy Post Councillor, who later became General Postal Director for the German Empire and the founder of the Museum for Communication Berlin.
Archive document, Universal Postal Union Treaty from October 9, 1874, treaty document for the founding of the Universal Postal Union in Bern with the signatures of the representatives of the contracting countries (09.10.1874)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
With the signing of the Treaty for the formation of a General Postal Union on October 9, 1874 in Bern, 21 states from 4 continents formed a single postal area for all contracting countries, creating one of the oldest international organizations worldwide.
Printing block for postage stamp (German Reich), 20 pfennigs, mint No. 34 (1.1.1875) by Preußische Staatsdruckerei BerlinMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
While 55 different postage rates were previously used for German postal traffic abroad, each letter with a fixed weight of 15 grams now cost the same amount: 20 pfennigs.
Mileage scale, title: "New augmented Curios mileage scale of the most distinguished cities in Europe, particularly in Germany, and how many common German miles lie between such cities"; heading: "Tabula Poliometrica Germaniae Ac Praecipuorum [...]" (1731) by Homannische OfficinMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Distance zones—calculated on a mileage scale, classified into different weight categories, and based on the value of the shipment—were no longer needed.
Scale, letter scale, pendulum scale with movable scale, postage rates in Germany and protected areas, Universal Postal Union (c. 1910)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
Postage payment regulations, i.e., the complex settlement and compensation between the individual states, also disappeared. Each postal administration could keep the charges it levied.
Photo engraving "Teilnehmer des Kongresses des Weltpostvereins in Wien 1891" (Participants of the Congress of the Universal Postal Union in Vienna in 1891) (1891) by Kunstanstalt Josef Löwy (gegr. 1858)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
To continuously adapt the General Postal Union Treaty and constantly improve the seamless running of international postal traffic, regular follow-up conferences were contractually set.
The establishment of a permanent office in Bern as a central contact and monitoring point, as well as a court of arbitration for resolving conflicts, strengthened confidence in the new organization.
At the second World Postal Congress in 1878 in Paris, the General Postal Union was renamed to the Universal Postal Union and the decision was made to publish world postcards.
Map, title: "Extent of the Universal Postal Union from April 1, 1879 with the execution of the Paris Treaty of June 1878." (1879) by Geogr. Inst. u. Landkarten Verlag Jul. StraubeMuseum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
More and more countries joined the Universal Postal Union. Since the 1880s, in addition to most European states and colonies, Japan, Australia and the countries of South America—and so countries on all 5 continents—have been linked by a common worldwide postal area.
Postcard from Weißwasser, Upper Lusatia, Saxony to Berlin with German Reich (Germany) postage stamps, No. 85 II a, 86 II f, 87 II d (13.05.1920)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
In 1878 standardized postage stamp colors were introduced to handle basic fees, which were stipulated at the 1906 Universal Postal Congress in Rome. Green was established as the color for franking printed items, red for postcards, and blue for cross-border mail.
In 1920 the Universal Postal Union also regulated the issue of postal identity cards. They served as valid identification for the person delivering or at the post office counter.
Photograph, celebratory event for the anniversary "50 Years of the Universal Postal Union 1874–1924" in the atrium of the Museum for Communication Berlin with German President Friedrich Ebert (first row, second from left) (1924)Museum for Communication Berlin, Museum Foundation Post and Telecommunication
For the 50th anniversary of the Universal Postal Union an event was held in the atrium of the Museum for Communication Berlin, with German President Friedrich Ebert (first row, second from left) also taking part.
World Post Day is celebrated on October 9 to commemorate the foundation of the Universal Postal Union, which continues to establish the rules for global postal traffic for its 192 member states to this day.
Post: the amazing network that connects the world
A virtual exhibition by Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.
Curator: Wenke Wilhelm
All objects are part of the collection of Museumsstiftung Post und Telekommunikation.