Famous Americans Series
In 1938, the Post Office Department announced plans for a series of stamps recognizing 10 famous Americans and invited the public to submit recommendations. The response was so great that it was decided to increase the number from 10 to 35. This required an unexpected level of organization by the Post Office Department for this series.
Seven categories were decided upon – authors, poets, educators, scientists, composers, artists, and inventors. Each category of five has the same set of denominations – 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, and 10¢. Each rate had a valid use. The 1¢ stamp paid for a letter that was dropped off at a post office to someone who had a box at the same office. The 2¢ was for local delivery. The 3¢ paid the normal non-local mail rate, and the 5¢ and 10¢ were used in combination for heavier letters and special rates. The denominations also shared a consistent coloring scheme: 1¢ is bright blue green; 2¢ is rose carmine; 3¢ is bright red violet; 5¢ is ultramarine; and 10¢ is dark brown.
Each category has its subjects arranged with the oldest birth date going on the 1¢ stamp, down to the most recent birth date on the 10¢ stamp. Each category has its own dedicated symbol in the engraving – a scroll, quill pen and inkwell for authors; a winged horse (Pegasus) for poets; the “Lamp of Knowledge” for educators; laurel leaves and the pipes of the Roman god Pan for composers; and inventors had a cogwheel with uplifted wings and a lightning flash to symbolize power, flight, and electricity.
The artists and the scientists have multiple symbols. Artists have either a paint palette and brush (for painters), and the sculptors have a stonecutting hammer and chisel. Scientists had the classical symbol of their particular profession.
Washington Irving is the author featured on the first “Famous Americans” stamp, U.S. #859. Irving was most famous for writing “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” and “Rip Van Winkle.” U.S. #859 was issued in Tarrytown, New York – the community closest to Irving’s story. Sleepy Hollow was not a town at the time – the story was set in Tarrytown. In 1996, the residents voted to change the name of North Tarrytown to Sleepy Hollow.
Featured on U.S. #861, Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher whose essays made him the leading spokesman for the “American Transcendentalism” movement. The beliefs of the movement included a rejection of society in favor of the individual and – as Emerson put it – “an original relation to the Universe.” Some of his best-known works included “Self Reliance” and “Nature.”
U.S. #862 honors Louisa May Alcott, a novelist who gained financial success writing under the name “A.M. Barnard.” But she achieved literary immortality when she wrote “Little Women” under her own name. The tale of four sisters – Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy – has become one of the most beloved stories in American literature. Alcott based the character of “Jo” on herself.
Samuel Clemens’ name appears on U.S. #863, but he is far better known by his chosen name of “Mark Twain.” Twain gained fame as both an author and a humorist, and was renowned for his wit. His stories of life on the Mississippi River typically included sharp critiques on people’s behavior. After Twain died, he was called the “greatest humorist of his age,” but his literary influence was illustrated by William Faulkner’s praise as the “father of American literature.” The stamp was issued at Hannibal, Missouri, where Twain grew up and began his writing career.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote poems that often featured subjects of myths and legends. His “Song of Hiawatha,” “Evangeline,” and “Paul Revere’s Ride” made him one of America’s most respected poets.
John Greenleaf Whittier, featured on U.S. #865, was one of the “Fireside Poets” – a group of American poets who rivaled classic British poets in fame and success. Known as the “Quaker Poet” for his religious beliefs, Whittier was a passionate abolitionist. His work gives a detailed view of 19th century life.
U.S. #868 commemorates James Whitcomb Riley, a poet best known for revealing the culture of America’s Midwest. Riley’s popularity during his lifetime was so great that newly elected President Benjamin Harrison suggested Riley be named “poet laureate” (nation’s official poet) – an honor that was not granted to any U.S. poet until the 1930s.
U.S. #869 features Horace Mann, whose interest in education began with a position as secretary on the Massachusetts Board of Education in 1837. Mann visited every school in the state and wrote annual reports detailing the progress in public education. He also developed Massachusetts’ “normal school” system (schools to train teachers). Mann’s work at revamping Massachusetts’s education influenced reform in other states, as well. He served as the first president of Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Mark Hopkins, shown on U.S. #870, was president of Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, for 36 years. His influence was so great that U.S. President James Garfield once called a university “Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other.” As a theologian, he was a professor of Moral Philosophy and Rhetoric, and his essays “Evidences of Christianity” became an influential textbook in the 19th century.
John Audubon is America’s most well-known wildlife artist. Featured on U.S. #874, his “Birds of America” was the product of 14 years of observations in nature and remains an inspiration for naturalists.
Dr. Crawford Long is showcased on U.S. #875. In 1842, Long became the first person to use ether on a patient in surgery in Jefferson, Georgia. He published the effects of ether as an anesthetic/pain-killer in the “Southern Medical and Surgical Journal,” helping influence its widespread use among other doctors.
U.S. #877 honors Dr. Walter Reed, a U.S. Army physician who established that yellow fever, a deadly infectious disease, was transmitted by mosquitoes. Reed’s breakthrough helped wipe out the disease in Cuba, and enabled work to resume on the Panama Canal. Reed died in 1902 of a burst appendix – a year after his life-saving discovery.
Addams was a social reformer who was the co-winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931 and commemorated on U.S. #878 in 1940. She was most remembered as the founder of Hull House, which offered social, educational, and cultural opportunities to the large immigrant population of Chicago.
John Philip Sousa, featured on U.S. #880, was the Director of the U.S. Marine Corps Band. He was famous for his marches, including “Semper Fidelis (or the “Marine’s Hymn), “Stars and Stripes Forever,” and “The Washington Post March.” Sousa’s music style led to him gaining the nickname, the “March King.”
The subject of U.S. #881, Victor Herbert became famous for composing operettas (short, light-hearted operas). His most famous work was “Babes in Toyland,” which included characters from Mother Goose nursery rhymes in a Christmas-themed operetta. It also drew influence from the classic ballet, “The Nutcracker Suite.”
Edward MacDowell, the subject of U.S. #882, was a famous U.S. composer known mainly for his piano pieces and for helping establish an independent American school. The MacDowell Colony was a long-held dream of Edward and his wife Marian – a place where artists could share ideas and inspiration. It was established in 1907, one year before his death.
This issue commemorates Ethelbert Nevin, a famous composer of light songs and piano pieces. He studied in New York, Boston, and Berlin and wrote “Rosary” and “Mighty ‘lak a Rose.”
Featured on U.S. #884, Gilbert Stuart was just 19 years old when he traveled to England to study art in 1775. He had already proven himself to be a promising portrait painter, and the American Revolution threatened to disrupt his progress. Stuart became a successful artist and one of the best-known painters in Europe.
James Whistler, shown on U.S. #885, was a popular U.S. painter who turned to art after dropping out of religious studies and West Point Army Academy. His painting “Whistler’s Mother” is one of the most recognizable paintings in U.S. culture.
U.S. #886 features Augustus Saint-Gaudens, the son of a shoemaker who went on to become a renowned sculptor. His life-size works decorate many American cities. He’s still regarded as America’s greatest sculptor. Saint-Gaudens also designed coins for the U.S. Mint. He and his brother Louis established the “Cornish Art Colony,” a retreat for artists in Cornish, New Hampshire.
The 5¢ Famous Artists stamp features Daniel Chester French, whose best-known work is the 30-foot-high statue of Abraham Lincoln, seated in the Lincoln Memorial. French also created the famous “Minute Man” statue in Concord, Massachusetts.
Frederic Remington, shown on U.S. # 888, was an American painter and sculptor famous for his portrayals of the Wild West. Remington often accompanied soldiers and witnessed a number of skirmishes and battles – including Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War. His statuettes usually featured cowboys, Indians, and soldiers on the Western plains.
Eli Whitney’s cotton gin helped shape the 19th century economy of the American South. He also developed the concept of “interchangeable parts,” which allowed for mass production, instead of making them one at a time. First used to mass-produce muskets for the U.S. Army, Whitney’s principles are often credited as the basis for the American system of manufacturing.
Samuel Morse, shown on U.S. #890, was a U.S. artist and inventor. He was the first president of the National Academy of Design, but is most remembered for inventing the telegraph.
Elias Howe perfected the concept of the sewing machine and was the first man to successfully patent it in the U.S. Shown on U.S. #892, Howe successfully defended his patent rights from Isaac Singer, earning large royalties from Singer’s successful copy.
Alexander Graham Bell was a U.S. inventor and physicist featured on U.S. #893. He was the founder of the American Association to Promote the Teaching of Speech to the Deaf, inspired by his mother’s deafness. Bell is best known for his invention of the telephone. His first words over a telephone were to his assistant in the next room, saying, “Mr. Watson, come here – I want to see you.”