Study of Stamps and Postal History

In honor of the anniversary of the postage stamp in the United States I decided to embark on a study of stamps and postal history. It was fascinating. It’s easy to take for granted something as ordinary as a stamp.

The first Postmaster General

The United States didn’t just “form”. That time period is ripe with men and women who were essential to securing the future of America. You can hardly think of Revolutionary America without thinking of Benjamin Franklin. It may not surprise you, therefore, to discover he is tangled up in the history of the U.S postage stamp as well!

Franklin was appointed as the first Postmaster General during the Second Continental Congress, which was held before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At this point in United States history, the Revolutionary War had already begun and the colonies are headed to extinction.

Keeping communications secure and organized is extremely important. It was vital the mail was delivered as quickly as possible. Benjamin Franklin was an excellent choice for the job of Postmaster General having served as deputy postmaster general under Britain’s Parliamentary Post for the 13 colonies since 1753!

Old letters tied with twine. A quill lays next to them and a larger letter is open underneath with writing that is illegible. A portrait of Benjamin Franklin is in the lower right corner.  The text reads: Benjamin Franklin Postmaster General. Making improvements that proved crucial to the Revolutionary War.

During his time as deputy postmaster general,  Franklin made many improvements to the postal system. He expanded mail delivery outside the boundaries of the colonies, opened a department for letters that were undeliverable and had riders traveling at night when the roads were less crowded. By 1757 he had surveyed the post roads and reorganized postal operations, a step that allowed smoother communication among the colonies. Each of these improvements were ultimately crucial to the Revolution.

Mr. Franklin kinda got fired when he became a loyalist to the colonies and leaked some private letters… ooops!

In 1775 when the Second Continental Congress was meeting and discussing the condition of the postal system, they knew they wanted Franklin BACK! He was hired as Postmaster General with the authority to employ a staff and establish as many new routes and connections as he saw fit!

Franklin served as Postmaster General to the United States for about a year, until he went to France to serve as ambassador to the court of King Louis XVI.

From Post Office to Post Office Department

Fast forward through the commercials and boring stuff to 1792 and the Postage Service Act. The Post office as we think of it existed in that letters were being delivered, but an official Department was not created until now: The Post Office Department, (1792-1971)

The time is 1840 something and mail delivery in the United States works something like this: You bring your letter to the post office and have it sent. The person receiving the letter has to PAY if they want to know what the latest news is. This led to a LOT of undelivered mail. It turns out people were using secret codes on the outside of the letters and then refusing delivery, but their messages were still getting through. The funny thing is that the letter went back and forth, so the work was being done and no money changed hands! It’s clear something had to change indeed!

So, when were postage stamps first used?

As my study of stamps and postal history continued, It was fun to discover the very first prepaid stamp in the world! It was a 1 cent portrait of Queen Victoria issued in Great Britain in 1840. The stage was set for the United States to follow the example and eliminate payment by the recipient as well.

Postmaster General Cave Johnson instructed the firm creating the stamps to create one for President Andrew Jackson who recently passed away, and One for George Washington, the First President. Instead, President Jackson was replaced with Benjamin Franklin. It was thought Benjamin Franklin would be more well received at the time.

On July 1, 1847 The Franklin 5 and the Washington 10 stamps were issued for use.

The first stamps, a brown 5 cent stamp with a portrait of Ben Franklin and a Black 10 cent with a portrait of George Washington. Both stamps have red cancelation ink over them.
Photo Credit= Rawdon, Wright, Hatch & Edson See also: U.S. presidents on U.S. postage stamps U.S. Postage stamp locator, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Adding stamps makes mailing letters easy, yet during the first five years after stamps were introduced, less than 2 percent of letters contained stamps! One problem may have been the implication that if you sent something pre-paid, with a stamp that is, you were assuming the recipient couldn’t afford to pay for the postage themselves! Finally in 1855 Congress passed a law making the use of stamps required.

Stamp Collecting

Many people enjoy collecting stamps. It’s an easy hobby to begin in which you don’t need expensive tools and equipment! You can begin easily with just stamps that come in the mail!

Former president Franklin D. Roosevelt is called “America’s number one stamp collector.” His mother taught him the art of stamp collecting. His collection of over 1,200,000 stamps is housed in the Roosevelt Library Museum.

picture of stamp collection with magnifying glass laid over the top. Text reads: Stamp collecting is an easy hobby to start.

Stamp collecting can bring an appreciation of different cultures, geography and even an appreciation for art and history. Stamp collectors are called  philatelists and according to the American Philatelic Society along with collecting stamps some collectors also collect envelopes that carried mail, markings or labels applied to mail including postage meters. Others will even collect Christmas Seals, revenue stamps and other ephemera.

How to Celebrate U.S. Postage Stamp Day

At the very least you celebration of U’S’ Postage Stamp Day should include sending a letter (with pre-paid postage of course!) to a friend or family member. Perhaps you can tell them about the history of stamps!

Feel Free to watch the Homeschool Holiday original video below to help you with some facts!

Commemorative stamps are extremely popular among people who like to send and collect unique stamps. Use the Homeschool Holiday design a postage stamp template download to create your own unique, one of a kind commemorative stamp.

You can download the templates FREE in the Homeschool Holiday Shop.

Click on the image to be taken to the free download in our shop

Thanks from Happy Hive Homeschooling

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