Sending a postcard is a time-honored tradition. It lets your loved ones know how and where you are, and gives them a little glimpse of some far-off place in the world.
In a way, it’s like sharing a little slice of the world with someone who’s far away.
It’s also a tradition that’s been around for centuries. Some people even imagine postcards continuing far into the future, like the incredible, artistic posters and postcards dreamed up by NASA showing off imaginary space destinations.
Even more amazing than the history is what gets put onto postcards. Most of them highlight the attractions of an area, like natural wonders, famous landmarks, and more.
But in the early 20th century in the western U.S., postcard makers got a little more creative.
Using simple but clever photo manipulation techniques, they managed to create some surreal, and very funny, postcards that painted a tongue-in-cheek version of their hometowns.
Check them out below and see how they made these incredible images!
[H/T: Amusing Planet]
The postcards seen here are all from the very early 1900s and are all photographs, albeit doctored ones.
Collected by the Wisconsin Historical Society, they actually come from a variety of places around the country, all of which are known for their agriculture.
The postcards were a fun way of promoting local business and showing it to the rest of the country as a place of rich farming, encouraging people to visit, settle, and do business there.
And if these remind you of the 1972 Allman Brothers Band album Eat A Peach , you’d be right!
The iconic image of a giant peach on a flatbed truck was inspired by postcards just like these.
So how were these crazy photos created, anyway?
Obviously, there was no such thing as digital imaging software when these were created!
The technique involved patience, photography skills, and some very sharp scissors. And sometimes paint in the case of the colorized ones like this large Montana potato.
Photos of buildings, vehicles, and people would be staged and photographed. Then, close-up photos of (regular-sized) vegetables would be taken separately.
The photos would all then be collaged together, re-shot to make the final composition.
The image would then be printed as postcards.
With the U.S. Postal Service able to deliver mail faster than ever thanks to the automobile, the vast western U.S. seemed a little smaller and many communities saw it as an opportunity to make themselves known.
The postcards weren’t meant to be taken literally, of course, but they were meant to show the towns as places where people could settle down, start a farm, and prosper.
And it wasn’t just vegetables. Other postcards also celebrated the rich hunting and fishing of their area.
This postcard sarcastically calls this giant trout “fair-sized.”
In fact, a lot of them had humorous, jokey titles that both celebrated and poked a little gentle fun at the towns.
Soon, the postcards became well-known and were being produced all over the country.
They became known as “tall-tale” postcards for their unbelievable subjects.
The major creators of these postcards were William H. “Dad” Martin (1865-1940) and Alfred Stanley Johnson, Jr. (1863-1932), but most likely, plenty of other artists and photographers got in on the tall-tale cards.
And of course, some of them got downright weird, like this “Kansas Air Ship,” referencing the grasshoppers and locusts that farmers had to contend with.
After WWI, the popularity of these postcards dwindled, as new methods of both communication and photography became more popular.
Still, they’re a great look at the early days of photo manipulation and at the great sense of humor that towns had about themselves.
SHARE this with anyone who loves history and vegetables!