294-99 - 1901 1c Pan-American Exposition - complete set of 6 stamps with FREE album and mounts
U.S. #294-99 – Complete set of six Pan-American stamps.

The Pan-American Exposition opened to the public on May 1, 1901, in Buffalo, New York. That same day the set of six Pan-American stamps went on sale. They were the first commemoratives and bi-color stamps of the 20th century. They also produced several highly sought-after inverts.

The 1901 Pan-American Exposition is remembered in the history books for many reasons. First, it was a salute to the engineering achievements that had taken place in America and the New World. It was the dawn of a new century, the beginning of an industrial age, and people were dazzled and excited about all the wonderful inventions that were coming into their lives.

3505 - 2001 Pan American Inverts and Buffalo
U.S. #3505 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the Pan-American inverts.

Running from May 1 through November 2, the exposition spanned 342 acres. One of the exposition’s major features was its use of electric lighting, created by hydroelectric power from nearby Niagara Falls. Additionally, many companies offered “working exhibits” that not only informed visitors, but also helped the exposition to function. Some of the new inventions on display included the electrograph, telautograph, voting machine, mutoscopes, a mechanical mowing machine, a typesetting machine and an envelope-making machine.

3505a-c - 2001 1c-4c Pan-American Inverts, set of 3 stamps
U.S. #3505a-c – Set of three 2001 Pan-American Inverts.

The Exposition was also an effort to promote better relations between North and South America. America’s 25th President, William McKinley, gave one of the most important speeches of his Presidency when he announced a change in his high-tariff isolationist trade policies. “…by sensible trade relations which will not interrupt our home production, we shall extend the outlets of our increasing surplus… The period of exclusiveness is past.”

Unfortunately, the events of the Pan-American Exposition took a sad turn on September 6, 1901. The day after giving his speech, President McKinley held a public reception at the Exposition’s Temple of Music. As the President shook hands with members of a large crowd that had gathered to meet him, Leon F. Czogosz extended his arm to the President and fired two shots from a pistol concealed under a handkerchief. Although one of the bullets only grazed McKinley, the second hit him squarely in the abdomen. Despite signs of recovery, President McKinley passed away on September 14, 1901. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took the oath of office and became President. Czogosz was later executed for his crime.

294 - 1901 1c Pan-American Exposition: Fast Lake Navigation
U.S. #294 pictures the lake steamer City of Alpena.
294a - 1901 1c Pan-American Exposition: Fast Lake Navigation Invert
U.S. #294a – Its estimated only about 700 of these inverts exist.
Click any of these images on this page to learn more about the individual stamps and find different conditions.

Pan-American Stamps and Inverts

Knowing the Pan-American Exposition event would be like no other ever seen, the promoters of the Exposition requested a series of commemorative stamps appropriate for such an event. And although the original inscription for the stamps, “Pan-American Series of 1901,” was changed to “Commemorative Series of 1901” (the Assistant Attorney General thought the original inscription served as an advertisement), a series of six stamps was issued with bi-color designs. They were to be the first bi-color stamps issued since the famous 1869 Pictorials produced by the American Bank Note Company.

295 - 1901 2c Pan-American Exposition: Empire State Express
U.S. #295 pictures the Empire State Express.
U.S. #295a – Its estimated only about 150 of these inverts exist. Image courtesy of Siegel Auctions

Because the Pan-American stamps were bi-color, two different plates were needed for each stamp – one for the frame and the other for the central design, or vignette. What makes the Pan-Americans even more special is that in addition to each vignette being unique, each of the frames is also unique.  The bi-color Pan-Americans were printed in two steps. In the first, the vignette (center design) was printed in black ink. The frame was then printed in a second color. This process made it very difficult for the printer to align the frame evenly. As a result, several stamps feature frames that aren’t aligned properly, and inverts were created when the sheet was mistakenly fed into the press backwards.

296 - 1901 4c Pan-American Exposition: Electric Automobile
U.S. #296 pictures an electric automobile.
297 - 1901 5c Pan-American Exposition: Bridge at Niagara Falls
U.S. #297 pictures Honeymoon Bridge at Niagara Falls.

Shortly after the series was issued, inverts were found among the 1¢ and 2¢ denominations. Reports of the discovery of 4¢ inverts reached postal officials, who reacted by deliberately creating two sheets of 200 inverted stamps each. Collectors were outraged by the intentional manipulation of the stamp market, prompting the government to abandon its plan to create 5¢, 8¢, and 10¢ inverts as well.

298 - 1901 8¢ Pan-American Exposition: Canal Locks at Sault Ste. Marie
U.S. #298 pictures the canal locks at Sault Ste. Marie.
299 - 1901 10¢ Pan-American Exposition: Fast Ocean Navigation
U.S. #299 pictures the St. Paul passenger ship.

The Pan-American commemoratives were issued on May 1, 1901, the first day of the Expo, and sold until the last day on October 31, 1901, when the remaining stamps were destroyed. So each of these historic stamps remained on sale for just six months. Because no sales records were kept, no one knows for sure how many of these stamps went unsold.

Click here for a full website dedicated to the exposition.

Click here to see what else happened on This Day in History.

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  1. Another of the exhibits at the exposition was an X-ray machine – X-rays had been discovered by Roentgen just a few years previously. This could have been used to locate the bullet in McKinley’s abdomen before fatal infection set in, but unfortunately no one seems to have thought of this.

    1. Thanks George. That’s the rest of the story but in addition, the so called Drs. were poking around in his wound with unwashed hands and instruments and infection played a big part in his death. I think they tried the x-ray but the mattress springs interfered with the imaging and those same Drs. disregarded it as something usable.

  2. More great stamps and comments to follow the “Meet me in St. Louis, Louis” Fair, of yesterday. I have a picture of McKinley making that great speech at the Buffalo Fair. My great-aunt’s husband was a reporter for AP, telegraphing the speech at a table just below the President on the grand stand. He later became the editor of the Buffalo Currier-Express. Great stamps and great times.

  3. Most beautiful stamps. Every time I look at them they look prettier.
    What a difference 100 years make. Ever changing life.

  4. Here is an interesting addition to the McKinley assassination from Wikipedia, “The scene of the crime, the Temple of Music, was demolished in November 1901, along with the rest of the Exposition grounds. A stone marker in the median of Fordham Drive, a residential street in Buffalo, marks the approximate spot (42°56.321′N 78°52.416′W[46]) where the shooting occurred. Czolgosz’s revolver is on display in the Pan-American Exposition exhibit at the Buffalo History Museum in Buffalo.”

  5. Another interesting footnote to history is that while Theodore Roosevelt is frequently credited as the first to ride in a car (an electric) when he rode in a widely publisized parade in Connecticut in 1902. McKinley, though, did it first. He rode in a Locomobile steamer driven by its inventor, F.O. Stanly in 1899. Sadly, McKinley also rode in a car when he was transported to the hospital after being shot at the fair, also before TR.

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