US Stamp Stories

Discover the History Behind US Stamps


History of United States
Commemorative Postage Stamps

The history of United States postage stamps begins before there was a United States or postage stamps!  During the early colonial days, letters were sent through a variety of independent postal organizations.  As the population of the colonies grew, the need for a more organized system of mail delivery became apparent.   In 1691 a colonial postal service was implemented by the British government and a number of Postmaster-Generals were appointed in the years leading up to the American Revolution, including one of the most important, Benjamin Franklin (as a joint Postmaster-General with William Hunter) in 1753.  Franklin, a pragmatic and inventive man, implemented many innovations that made the colonial postal system much more effective and after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, became the United State’s first Postmaster-General.

Prior to the founding of the United States, letters were generally not pre-paid.  The person receiving the letters paid the mailman when the letter was delivered.  Although the United States now had full control over the postal system as outlined in the Constitution, this method continued.  This system was not efficient though as it required the mailman to find the recipient and collect the money, or if the recipient refused the letter, it had to be sent back to the originating post office unpaid.  It was not until the early 1940s that stamps were first introduced to the US Postal system.

Britain began using prepaid postage stamps in 1840 and the first US postage stamps were introduced two years later.  These were not official stamps, but were “provisional issue stamps” that were produced by private companies.  In 1847 the first United States postage stamps were issued by the government, the famous five cent Franklin and ten cent Washington stamps.  Although the previous payment upon receipt method was still used, these stamps were extremely popular with the American public.

Additional stamps were soon issued, and by the time the first commemorative set was issued in 1893, over 200 definitive stamps had been issued (many more if stamp variations are included).  These stamps are considered definitive because they were issued for an extended period of time and didn’t commemorate a particular person or event.  It can be argued that the Abraham Lincoln memorial stamp of 1866 is the first commemorative postage stamp, but collectors usually consider the 1893 Columbian issue to be the first.

A set of 16 stamps were issued in 1893 to commemorate the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  These stamps were very popular with collectors; although some complained about the cost of completing the entire set (this set included the first $1.00, $2.00 and $5.00 stamps in US history).  Although the set was highly successful (and profitable for the Post Office), the second commemorative set of stamps was not issued until 1898.  Early commemoratives were issued only for expositions until 1909, and it was not until 1924 that the United States began issuing commemorative stamps for every year.

 

US Postage Stamps
by Year

1893
1898
1901
1904
1907
1909
1913
1919



1940
1941
1942
1943
1944
1945
1946
1947
1948
1949





1920
1923
1924
1925
1926
1927
1928
1929



1950
1951
1952
1953
1954
1955
1956
1957
1958
1959





1930
1931
1932
1933
1934
1935
1936
1937
1938
1939


1960
1961
1962
1963
1964
1965
1966
1967
1968
1969