A short history of Christmas cards

Tradition adopted by the White House under Eisenhower

The custom of sending a Christmas greeting card every December has been woven into the fabric of American culture for generations.

The tradition of sending Christmas greeting card was conceptualized by English civil servant Henry Cole in 1843. Cole served as one of four assistant-keepers at the Public Record Office, now known as the postal office, and became a key figure in postal service reform. Henry Cole aided in the introduction of the Penny Post, the public postal service in 1840.  In 1843, Cole commissioned his friend and artist John Callcott Horsley to illustrate greeting cards for Christmas.  Horsely printed a series of 1000 colored lithographed cards to be sold in London.  Together, they were the team that brought the tradition of sending greeting cards around Christmastime to the Victorian era.  Louis Prang, a printer, publisher and lithographer from Boston, brought the tradition to America.  By 1881, Prang was printing more than 5 million cards a year.  The custom was introduced to the White House in the form of an official White House Christmas card, in 1953 during President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration and has become an annual tradition since. 

Today, the greeting card industry garners $5billion annually and nearly 2 billion Christmas cards are sent every year. 

The Obama family’s first official White House Christmas card

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