A Style article yesterday about a $10 million donation to the National Postal Museum by former postmaster general Winton M. Blount said he sought the Republican nomination for governor in Alabama. It was his son, Winton Blount III, who was the candidate. A photo accompanying the article showed the son, not the father. (Published 12/11/1999)
Winton M. Blount, the colorful former U.S. postmaster general and a generous supporter of the arts, has given $10 million to the National Postal Museum, one of the 16 museums operated by the Smithsonian Institution.
The gift, the largest donation the nine-year-old museum has received, will finance a research, education and conference center that will be constructed in the marble building next door to Union Station that already houses the museum. The expansion, to be called the Winton M. Blount Center for Postal Studies, will support scholars and museum professionals who are concentrating on philately and postal history.
"I don't think there is a better place to learn about postal history in the world," Blount said yesterday. "I have been part of the vision that has developed the museum, and I want to retain my involvement."
The Blount money is part of a $30 million campaign to create an endowment at the facility. "We are not like some of the other private museums or the Smithsonian--we are concentrating on endowments rather than project money," said James H. Bruns, the museum's director. "Project money is like chasing your tail. The money comes in, the project is done, and you have to start over."
Blount's professional involvement with the world of post offices began in 1969 when he was assigned by President Nixon to begin the partial privatization of the Postal Service. He is something of a legend in his native Alabama: He got his start building fish ponds in the 1940s, and became a multimillionaire in industrial construction. Last year Blount, who is 78, made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican nomination for governor.
He is the chairman of the Postal Museum's advisory commission, one of a network of Smithsonian committees charged with fund-raising. In 1997, when the tour of an exhibit of Smithsonian artifacts had to be curtailed, Blount paid for it to travel to Birmingham.
Overall, the Smithsonian has had success winning big individual donations, getting $60 million from Steven Udar-Hazy, a California businessman, and $20 million from Kenneth Behring, another Golden State millionaire.
The Postal Museum raised about $1.5 million in private funds last year and received $578,000 as part of the Smithsonian's appropriation. It also got $2.8 million from the Postal Service. The new center will cover 8,000 to 12,000 square feet and is expected to be completed in two years. "I think you will find it wouldn't be possible without this gift," Blount said.
In recent years, he has given $22 million to build a theater in Montgomery that is home of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and is the fifth largest theater in the world dedicated to the playwright. He gave another $25 million to create a 300-acre Winton Blount Cultural Park, which will include the theater, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, a performing arts pavilion and his own home, which will be converted to a decorative arts museum.
The Postal Museum, an outgrowth of a division at the Smithsonian that dates back to 1886, became a separate entity in 1990. The museum, in Washington's old main post office at North Capitol Street and Massachusetts Avenue NE, encompasses a collection of some 13 million objects, ranging from letters carried by the Pony Express to a replica of a Model A Ford mail truck.
With electronic services making sizable inroads into old-fashioned mail, the center will preserve the way most communication used to be handled. "The center will also look at oral histories of postal officials and postal workers. So many postal stories are being lost as employees pass on," Bruns said.
CAPTION: Winton Blount, shown during his Alabama gubernatorial bid, said of the National Postal Museum: "I don't think there is a better place to learn about postal history in the world."