Study of Stamps and Postal History

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In honor of the anniversary of the postage stamp in the United States, let’s study stamps and postal history. 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 Franklin as part of the history of the U.S postage stamp as well!

They appointed Franklin as the first Postmaster General during the Second Continental Congress. They held this before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. At this point in United States history, the Revolutionary War had already begun, and the colonies were 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. He had already served as deputy postmaster general under Britain’s Parliamentary Post for the 13 colonies since 1753!

Franklin’s Impact

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, and opened a department for letters that were undeliverable. Riders were traveling at night when the roads were less crowded. By 1757, he had surveyed the post roads and reorganized postal operations. This was a step that allowed smoother communication among the colonies. Each of these improvements was 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! They hired him as Postmaster General. He had 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. Afterwards, 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. However, it wasn’t until 1792 that it was an official department of the government. The Post Office Department existed from 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. These codes allowed them to refuse delivery. Their messages were still getting through. The funny thing is that the letter went back and forth. 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 the study of stamps and postal history continues you’ll discover the first prepaid stamp in the world! It was a 1 cent portrait of Queen Victoria issued in Great Britain in 1840. England set the stage for the United States to follow, and use prepaind postage.

Postmaster General Cave Johnson instructed the firm creating stamps to create one for President Andrew Jackson who recently passed away, and one for George Washington, the First President. They ended up using Benjamin Franklin because of his popularity with the American people.

On July 1, 1847 they issued the Franklin 5 and the Washington 10 stamps 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. Despite this, during the first five years after stampswere 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 in the Roosevelt Library Museum.

Stamp collecting can bring an appreciation of different cultures, geography and even an appreciation for art and history. Stamp collectors are called philatelists. 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, your 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!

Watch the Happy Hive 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 Happy Hive Shop.

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

We also have a complete resource that explores the History of US Postage Rates!

You will discover when postage stamps were first used in the United States as well as what the procedure was before stamps were required.

The History of Stamps includes a look at the Pony Express, Forever Stamps and even the addition of Zip Codes!

This resource is ready to go with no additional requirements from you. You receive a link to a Google Slide presentation so you can present the History of Stamps to your learners yourself. You can also use the Homeschool Holiday original video in which Mrs. Crabtree presents the History of Stamps – using the same google presentation – but without stopping to show the additional you tube videos linked in the slide presentation.


Thanks for stopping by Happy Hive Homeschooling for an informal study of stamps and postage history in the U.s.

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