After the Austrian Post Office debuted the first official postcard in October of 1869, many other countries in Europe followed suit, beginning with Germany, Belgium, and Holland. In 1871, the trend spread beyond Europe to Canada and Russia, and it became increasingly clear that people wanted to send postcards, often called “pioneers,” beyond the arbitrary borders of the country where they lived.
The first International Postal Conference was held in 1874 in Bern, Switzerland, and was attended by delegates from 22 countries. The meeting resulted in the first International Postal Treaty, which took effect in July of 1875 and established a General Postal Union and uniform rates for letter distribution among the member countries.
At the time, only governments were printing and distributing postcards, which included brief instructions for writing the address on one side and the message on the reverse. However, postcards quickly evolved to include illustrated designs that reflected their place of origin, since businesses could print imagery directly onto these prepaid, government-issued cards.
Events like 1893’s World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago capitalized on the postcard’s growing popularity and created several custom postcards for the occasion. But once postal services began allowing privately published postcards, like the United States did in 1898, the postcard market exploded. This shift to decorative cards also resulted in the need for a split side where both message and address could be written.
Soon postcards were being made everywhere from Shanghai, China, to Selma, Alabama, typically featuring unique local architecture, cultural events, or tourist destinations. The ability to send a postcard halfway across the globe gave travelers a perfect way to remind those back home that you were thinking of them wherever you went, be it the Eiffel Tower, the Panama Canal, or the Taj Mahal.