1999 33¢ Celebrate the Century - 1960s: Star Trek
US #3188e – from the Celebrate the Century Series

On September 8, 1966, the first episode of Star Trek premiered on television.

In the 1950s and 60s, Gene Roddenberry worked on a number of successful television shows, including several series about the Old West.  A long-time fan of science fiction, he began to think about the idea of combining these two interests.

2016 47¢ Star Trek
US #5132-35 – US stamps issued in 2016 to mark the 50th anniversary of Star Trek.

On March 11, 1964, Roddenberry created the first draft of a science fiction television show about a space crew in the 23rd century that explored the Milky Way.  It combined the action of a Western with the adventure of space.  He called it a “wagon train to the stars,” which nearly became the name of the show.

2016 47¢ Star Trek Fleetwood First Day Covers with Digital Color Postmarks
US #5132-35 – Fleetwood First Day Covers with Digital Color Postmarks

Inspired by the Horatio Hornblower novels and Gulliver’s Travels, Roddenberry envisioned Star Trek as more than just science fiction.  He believed it was an example of what humanity could become if it learned from its past mistakes and put an end to violence.

 2020 Star Trek - Television Series Crew, Mint, Set of 12 Stamps, Great Britain
Item #MFN077 – Great Britain stamps picturing beloved captains and other characters through the years

Roddenberry presented his new idea to Herb Solow of Desilu Productions in April 1964.  Solow thought it was a unique idea and signed the show up for a three-year contract.  Rodenberry’s idea was developed and changed extensively in the coming months.  They filmed the first pilot, “The Cage,” later that year.

2020 Star Trek
Item #MFN078 – Great Britain stamps honoring Star Trek films

However, the executives at NBC were unhappy with the pilot, calling it “too cerebral.”  But they were impressed with the idea and offered to allow for a second pilot to be created.  The only character to remain from the original pilot was Spock.  The new pilot was called “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and introduced Captain Kirk as well as a host of now-famous characters.

2001 34¢ Legends of Hollywood: Lucille Ball
US #3523 – One studio representative said, “If it were not for Lucy, there would be no Star Trek today.”

The show was nearly cancelled before it aired in February 1966.  Desilu Productions had gone from making just one half-hour show (The Lucy Show), to producing two expensive hour-long shows (Star Trek and Mission: Impossible).  However, Solow personally convinced owner Lucille Ball that both shows were worth the risk and should continue production.

The first episode of Star Trek, “The Man Trap,” premiered on September 8, 1966. Initial reviews were mixed, with some critics praising the show and others claiming it wouldn’t work.  However, it premiered against mostly reruns and managed to easily win its time slot.  The next week it dropped to number two and much lower in the coming weeks.  The show proved popular with younger audiences, though, and continued to film new episodes.

1999 33¢ Celebrate the Century - 1960s:
US #3188a – When Nichelle Nichols, who played Uhura, considered leaving the show, Martin Luther King Jr. convinced her to stay.

Star Trek was ahead of its time.  In the midst of the Civil Rights Movement and tensions with communist nations, the multi-racial cast included African Americans, Asians, and Soviets – which was unheard of at the time.  Though set in space and on alien planets, the storylines directly reflected events of the time – war and peace, imperialism, class warfare, and human rights.  Quickly, the cast of unknown actors rocketed to cult stardom in what became one of the most popular TV shows of all time.

With “Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before,” the crew of the starship Enterprise traveled the galaxy, bringing the future into our living rooms.  These adventures included encounters with aliens, discoveries of new planets and the use of technologies far beyond what anyone thought was possible at the time.  Some technology, such as cell phones and personal computers, eventually became reality.  Transporters, phaser guns, and warp drives also became common in other science fiction TV shows and movies.

2019 Star Trek, Mint, Set of 3 Sheets, Worldwide
Item #MFN085 – set of three stamp sheets honoring popular and hard to find Star Trek Gold Key Comics

Though the original Star Trek lasted just three seasons (a total of 79 episodes), it found renewed popularity when it went into reruns in 1969.  In 1979, Star Trek: The Motion Picture made its successful debut.  That success has sparked more than ten additional series, more than a dozen movies, comics, games, books, and more.   To date, there have been more than 850 episodes of Star Trek between the different TV shows.

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  1. We loved the original Star Trek, a little hokey at times, but we watched it again and again. Of course, we were a lot younger then. The spin-offs, not so much.

  2. We are grateful to Lucy Ball. Thank you.
    Also, Scotty always seemed to need more power crystals. Where did they come from ? What exactly were they ? Why did they never seem to have enough ? How did they get more ? Did they grow them on board the Enterprise ? Anyone know any answers ?

    1. Di-Lithium Crystals. Pretty sure they were an imaginary natural element, mined on a number of planet

  3. Also. it’s interesting that all of the aliens that they encountered spoke perfect English. In the early episodes, the crew wore some sort of universal translator, but later they dropped all of that unnecessary nonsense.

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