The Stamp of Approval for Science
With ever-lessening frequency (due to business and life in general)
, I engage in the practice of philately - not to be confused with philanthropy. Philatelists are more commonly known as stamp collectors. New stamps are issued every few months, and offer a great opportunity to educate the mail-receiving public on a large number of topics. In addition to general postage stamps - the little square ones with a president's picture, a pair of love birds, or a tea pot on them - the U.S. Postal Service, as well as many other countries' post offices, issues commemorative postage stamps to honor people, places, and events considered important in their country's history. Among those subjects of commemoration are people, places, and events related to science.
The first commemorative stamp issued in America in 1893 paid tribute to Christopher Columbus, an explorer and man of science. The set is referred to as the "Columbian Exposition Issue." It is valued at around $10k, by the way. Other sets for other expositions followed. The New York World's Fair has been the subject of a
couple commemorative stamps, since it has always been a venue for the introduction of awe-inspiring technology and futuristic contraptions (see Pedro the Voder
). A "First Man on the Moon" stamp was issued on July 1, 1970, in remembrance of the previous year's event on July 20, 1969. This "Progress in Electronics," stamp came out on July 10, 1973. The Centennial of Flight event had a stamp
debut on May 22, 2003, simultaneously at the USAF Museum in Dayton, OH, and the Wright Brothers National Memorial Park in Kill Devil Hills, N.C. It paid tribute to the first sustained powered flight by the Wright brothers, not to the brothers themselves.
Noble Prize winners are a favorite subject in the people category. America as a nation has benefited greatly as the destination of choice for many of the world's greatest minds (LEGAL immigrants, by the way)
, many of whom have been awarded Nobel Prizes.
Einstein is probably the most often commemorated scientist in the world, and
we were fortunate enough to get him from Austria. The U.S. issued a single stamp design in his honor. Shown also is a full theme sheet put out by Mongolia in 2000; many countries have done similar printings for Einstein. France and a few other
countries issued commemoratives of Marie Curie. Niels Bohr got his own stamp from Denmark. One block of four stamps on May 4, 2005, from the USPS took
care of four categories of Nobel scientists in one fell swoop - a geneticist, a thermodynamicist, a mathematician, and a physicist. Enrico Fermi got a stamp of his own in October of 2001.
Likewise, many non-Nobel types have been commemorated for their contributions to science. The Robert Goddard stamp was issued on October 5, 1964, in Roswell, NM (a fitting location - aliens, space, get it?)
An example of a foreign nation's commemorative stamp honoring Goddard is also shown. In another drive-by issuance, four of the most famous communications pioneers, Charles Steinmetz, Edwin Armstrong, Philo T. Farnsworth, and Nikola Tesla were commemorated in a block titled, "Tribute to American Inventors." Tesla has been honored on many of the world's stamps. Benjamin Franklin, being the country's first postmaster appointed by Congress, has his mug on many stamps, both commemorative and non.Here is a stamp that honors a subject that will be near and dear to a lot of RF Cafe visitors - Radio Amateurs. It was issued on
December 15, 1964, in
Anchorage, AK. Other stamps have paid tribute to communications pioneers. Italy issued a stamp in honor of Guglielmo Marconi, but I
one by Germany is a better design (although Italy did give Marconi an entire banknote of his own). The Echo 1
satellite received recognition on December 15, 1960, after having been placed in Earth orbit in August of the same year. This "Radio Entertains America," while not truly a commemorative stamp, does serve the purpose. The International Telecommunication Union was commemorated with a stamp in
IMHO, not all commemorative stamps have been as complimentary of their subjects as the designers intended. One recent example of note is the R. Buckminster Fuller stamp. "Buckey," as he was known to his friends, discovered the third form of carbon - a 60-sided regular polygon that was dubbed a "Buckeyball" fullerene (C60). Click on the stamp thumbnail to see how the guy was rendered. This is a case of being too intent on making a theme fit where it really does not belong. The first two forms of carbon
, incidentally, are graphite and diamond.
These are but just a small sample of commemorative stamps with a science theme; a Google image search will turn up thousands more. In this day of a predominance of e-mail and text messaging, sending or receiving a for-real letter in a for-real envelope is becoming increasingly rare (kind of like my aforementioned opportunities for stamp collecting activities). Stamp machines in stores and in the post office lobby do not dispense commemoratives, so you usually have to actually go into a post office and get the stamps at a counter. Back in the early days of what eventually became RF Cafe (originally Waypoint Software, selling my DOS-based TxRx Designer
system analysis software), I used to be sure to affix commemorative stamps to all my mailings. Now, everything gets "shipped" via e-mail, so the opportunity has been lost to put these reminders of history in front of people.
One more thing: Before you go desiring yourself honored in similar fashion on a commemorative stamp of your own, at least by the U.S. Postal Service, keep this in mind. Except for former presidents, a person must have been deceased at least ten years before he/she can be commemorated on a stamp. It's the old, "Careful what you wish for - you might just get it," admonition.