For more than two centuries, the United States Postal Service (USPS) has been the primary method of sending point-to-point messages for more over two centuries. The agency creates and distributes stamps. This logo, which shows paid postal fees, has long accompanied private and public correspondence.
In the latest edition of the National Portrait Gallery’s podcast Portraits, Daniel Piazza, curator of philately at the Smithsonian’s National Postal Museum, looks at some of the Portrait Gallery’s most historically significant stamps. The British crown founded the mail service, which was essential to the American revolution.
“They didn’t find it to inspire opposition,” Piazza tells Portrait Gallery director and podcast host Kim Sajet. But that was the result. With a mail network between the colonies, pockets of resistance could communicate and coordinate more easily than before.
They could have stewed in their individual Massachusetts or Virginia complaints or complained to lobbyists in London instead of joining forces. It encouraged cooperation and idea transmission that led to British resistance.
Sajet notes that a recent stamp features a grumpy-looking Benjamin Franklin, the first and final royal postmaster general. The stamp was made in 1993 to celebrate the opening of the National Postal Museum at the Smithsonian. It was based on a picture of Franklin from 1785.
Franklin was representing the young, still-at-war United States before the French court. (Franklin is on the $100 bill.) Franklin’s angry countenance may be due to recent spy accusations.
Other stamp graphics show Franklin’s involvement in founding the post office. Before Franklin got involved, the American colonies cared more about keeping their individual letters with the British crown than about how well they could talk to each other.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the post service to unite Americans during World War II, 150 years after Franklin. After Roosevelt died in 1945, a red two-cent stamp was made with a picture of him from 1933.
The stamp was part of an effort to build a universal color-coding system for postal workers in nations with various languages and currencies.
FDR was a philatelist and appreciated the stamp’s visual appeal, adds Piazza. FDR worked with the post office to make stamps to promote his New Deal and National Recovery Administration.
At a period when radio hadn’t reached every family (between March 1933 and June 1944, Roosevelt famously addressed the nation via radio 30 times in a series of speeches), FDR’s commissioned stamps hammered home his message.
Sajet and Piazza look at the history of including women and people of color on U.S. stamps and how this has changed over time. Piazza argues the first woman on a U.S. stamp isn’t American. Queen Isabella appears on the 1893 Columbian Exposition stamps.
Susan B. Anthony was honored with a stamp celebrating the 16th anniversary of women’s suffrage in 1936. FDR hoped the stamp would help shore up his support among female voters.
In 1940, the first African American postage stamp featured Booker T. Washington. George Washington Carver came next in 1948, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that the USPS made the Black Heritage series.
Piazza says that portraits make wonderful stamp designs, since they convey a lot in a short space. Sajet warns that traditional portraiture was expensive and excluded many prominent Americans.
Piazza says that the USPS has tried to solve this problem by ordering paintings of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, who founded Chicago, and Benjamin Banneker, a 19th-century naturalist, astronomer, and mathematician.
Piazza says that too much dependence on portraits might lead to omissions or fabrications. “Neither is great.” Sidedoor celebrated the first pictures from the James Webb Space Telescope in the middle of July by telling the story of its predecessor, the Hubble Space Telescope.
” host Lizzie Peabody chats with National Air and Space Museum curator Samantha Thompson, Hubble: Imaging Space and Time author Robert Smith, astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman, and astronomer Sandra Faber about the observatory’s turnaround. Soon after the HST was turned on in April 1990, people who were waiting for its pictures found out that its main mirror had been polished wrong, which made the quality of the pictures worse.
A December 1993 service mission fixed the problem, and four following missions—the most recent in May 2009—have maintained operational HST. The observatory has been a great success, lasting far longer than intended.
You may read Stagecoach Mary Field: Rough American Female Pioneer – Amazing story also to witness some interesting history facts about USPS.
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