Founding of the American Turners 

U.S. #979 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the American Turners.

On November 21, 1848, the first American Turners gymnastic union was established in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The first Turner organizations were formed in Germany in the early 1810s. In 1811, Berlin teacher Freidrich Ludwig Jahn began staging outdoor physical education classes to strengthen his students and give them a sense of national pride in preparation for a war of liberation against France. Two years later, Jahn and his students participated in the war he prepared them for.

Berlin #9N380 – Berlin stamp honoring gymnastics.

In the coming years, similar gymnastic organizations were founded throughout Germany. These groups focused on physical education, particular that which used gymnastic apparatus such as parallel bars, the rings, the balance beam, the horse, and the horizontal bar. But they also promoted democratic reforms in the government, which the leaders of the German states opposed. Between 1819 and 1842, the government imposed extensive restrictions on these groups, greatly limiting what they could do.   When these restrictions were lifted in 1842, the Turner movement rebounded and its membership and political work increased a great deal.

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Then in 1848, a revolution broke out in Germany and many the Turners joined to fight for their beliefs, though some preferred to make change without violence. After the revolution failed, those Turners that joined in the fight fled to America. Those that didn’t remained in Germany and their Turner societies became less about politics and more about gymnastics.

U.S. #979 – American Turners Fleetwood First Day Cover.

Shortly after arriving in the U.S., the Turners quickly began forming their new gymnastic societies, also known as Turnverein or Turngemeinde. The first one is generally believed to be the Cincinnati Turngemeinde, which was founded on November 21, 1848.

The Turner movement in America spread quickly to other major cities by 1850 – Baltimore, Boston, Louisville, New York City, Pittsburgh, Richmond, and St. Louis. In October of that same year, American Turners from around the country met at a convention in Philadelphia to establish a national organization.

U.S. #77 – America’s first mourning stamp.

The Turners became very invested in American politics, fighting the “Know-Nothings” that had called for immigration restrictions. The organization itself was also split on the issue of slavery, though they reconciled before the Civil War began. Generally, the Turners were strong supporters of Lincoln’s first campaign, and served as the President’s bodyguards at his inauguration. Many Turners fought for the Union during the Civil War. They also served as guards at Lincoln’s funeral.

The American Turners grew after the Civil War, reaching its peak in 1893 with nearly 42,000 members in 316 local societies. The Turners also opened a teacher’s seminary to train gymnastics teachers, and introduced physical education classes to public schools in many cities.

The Turners were targeted during World War I and World War II and had to prove their loyalty to the U.S. They changed their name to the American Gymnastic Union and later the American Turners. They reached another peak in membership in 1950 with 25,000 members, though their numbers have decreased since then.

U.S. #979 – American Turners Plate Block First Day Cover.

The Story Behind the Stamp

U.S. #979 was issued for the 100th anniversary of the American Turners Society, and sparked a controversy. Click here or the stamp image above to learn more about it…

Click here to visit the American Turners website.

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

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    1. Since I started collecting stamps in the 1950s I was quite familiar with this stamp but did not know the background at all. Thanks a lot for this information.

  1. Be sure to click above on the stamp story . The Postmaster clearly objected to being ordered by Congress to produce the stamp. The result is obviously way overdone, too full of detail. But it was beautifully engraved! This was his spite stamp!. Yet most of the Turner Society members loved being recognized and missed the point. One of the Turners wrote, “. . .despite the jumble of features the stamp makes a very good impression in use of virtue of its shape, color, and mazy detail.” (‘mazy” = like a maze). So I call it the American Turners Mazy Stamp in my stamp album. I love it

  2. I grew up in Cincinnati and did not know about this organization. My great great grandfather came to Cincinnati in 1840’s, fought in the Civil War in an artillery battery from Cincinnati and was deafened from the battle of Gettysburg. I greatly enjoy these emails often with bits of info previously unknown.

  3. I remember the Turners well, when I was A young lad the turners let the chicago boys club use of their pool on mondays & thursdays the one rule they had was we had to shower &swin bare assed

  4. Thank you for educating me on the American Turners. Although I have the stamp and have looked at it, I was too lazy to do any research about this fine group. I appreciate you doing the work and presenting it so nicely. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!

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