2:00 p.m. Sunday, September 23

image of program invitation card

How did postcards help law-enforcement agencies fight crime in the 1920s?

Longtime postcard collector Dave Bishop will use images and stories to answer that and other intriguing questions when he presents “Calling All Cars” at 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23 at the Betty Strong Encounter Center. Admission will be free; a reception will follow.

“Decades before the Internet entered the picture, law enforcement agencies used postcards to share information about crimes and criminals,” says Bishop, a retired Sioux City Police Dept. sergeant.

Bishop’s illustrated program will discuss images of postcards sent to the Sioux City Police Dept. in 1923 and 1924 from law enforcement agencies in Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota and Missouri.

Most postcards ballyhoo a “Reward” for information leading to the arrest and conviction of thieves and recovery of stolen goods that included everything from pricey jewelry, watches and high-end clothing to silverware, pistols and tires.

“Wanted” postcards supply the time, date and place of the burglaries, as well a list of stolen goods. One example? On the evening of April 15, 1923, a Council Bluffs, Iowa, residence was burglarized. The stolen goods included a men’s chinchilla overcoat and a lady’s Hudson sealskin coat valued at $400.

The Pender, Neb., sheriff sent a “$100 Reward” postcard to the Sioux City Police chief forĀ  capture and conviction of thieves who stole 59 men’s suit and nine men’s rain coats from the Palace Hotel Building on May 19, 1923. Return of the clothing, without the accused, also promised a $100 reward.

A “$150 Reward” postcard reported an Arlington, S.D., hardware-store heist of firearms, ammunition and about two dozen Jack knives.

“What was the story behind all these burglaries in 1923 and 1924? We have to use our imaginations,” Bishop says. “Was there a crime ring that led back here to Sioux City? Where did all these stolen go? To Al Capone?”

Bishop is a frequent presenter of local postcard history programs at the Encounter Center. He’s covered stories of local transportation, restaurant, advertising, bands, boxers, barbers, schools and floods stories as told by postcards. “Long before e-mails and texts, postcards were the way people shared images and brief messages.”

Cheaper to mail than letters, postcards began to take hold in the United States in the 1870s, first as an advertising medium. Writing wasn’t permitted on the address side of a postcard until March 1, 1907, the same date when divided backs were permitted. That explains why postcards prior to that time have messages written across the picture side.

Postcards peaked in popularity during the first decade of the 20th century. In the 12 months preceding June 30, 1908, 677 million postcards were mailed.