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Great Americans Issue (1980-1999)

19-cent Sequoyah stamp
The Sequoyah stamp was the first issue in the Great Americans series. The stamp image is based on a full-color portrait of Sequoyah, painted in 1965 by Charles Banks Wilson, that hangs in the Oklahoma state capital.

The Great Americans definitive series, a set of stamps with sixty-three designs, issued between 1980 and 1999, comprises the largest set of face different ordinary stamps issued through the beginning of the twenty-first century. Sixty-two of the stamps honor individuals and one honors a couple, Lila and DeWitt Wallace. The general public, and even many collectors, had no knowledge of most of the individuals portrayed. Many subjects appear to have been selected to satisfy various political agendas with no apparent unifying theme.

The Great Americans are characterized by their standard definitive size, simple design lines, and monochromatic colors. They offer more complicated varieties than typically found in previous definitive series. The defining characteristics of these varieties are attributed to the numerous printing presses, perforation processes and machines, paper, phosphorescent tagging, and gum utilized by the Bureau of Engraving and Printing and the several private contract security printers used to produce stamps of the series.

The Great Americans Series premiered on December 27, 1980, with the issuance of the 19-cent Sequoyah stamp, fulfilling the need for a stamp to pay the international postcard rate effective January 1, 1981. All the designs were produced as sheet stamps. Only the 25-cent Jack London design was produced additionally in booklet format. In 1987, the 5-dollar Bret Harte stamp became the first definitive stamp issued in miniature sheet format, panes of twenty stamps. A major plate variety on the 1-dollar Johns Hopkins stamp was discovered in July 1990. The variety manifests itself as a large spot on the subject’s shirt just below his bow tie.

Lost revenue prompted the Postal Service to produce untagged low value stamps in January, 1991. The 4-cent Father Flanagan, printed by the Bureau, was the first to appear intentionally without tagging. The Bureau also experimented with phosphor coated paper. The 15-cent Cody was the only Great Americans stamp printed on this paper. In 1995 the Bureau added a second ink supplier, which created new shades on some stamps.

After 1991 contract suppliers produced twelve of the Great Americans, the first being the 35-cent Chavez issued April 3, 1991. It became apparent that private contractors could produce stamps at lower costs than the Bureau. Private contractors printed ten of the last eleven Great Americans to be issued.

Encyclopedia of United States Stamps and Stamp Collecting
February 1, 2007

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1-cent Dorothea Dix single

Celebrated teacher, nurse, and prison reform advocate Dorothea Dix (1802-1887) was born in 1802 to an abusive alcoholic father and mentally unstable mother. From the age of twelve, she and her two brothers were raised by their wealthy grandmother and great aunt. From an early age, Dorothea expressed keen interest in the plight of the poor, and dedicated the early part of her career to providing education for girls who otherwise would not have such opportunities.

In 1841, however, Dorothea’s life changed after she witnessed the inhumane conditions in a women's prison in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was shocked to find the mentally ill caged in cold, damp, unfurnished, foul-smelling quarters. They were often beaten and not adequately fed. She disagreed with the common perception that "the insane do not feel heat or cold." She spent the next forty-six years pushing state legislatures for prison reform and adequate care for the mentally ill. During the Civil War, she served as superintendent of Union army nurses, and afterwards used those experiences with government bureaucracy to effectively further the cause of appropriate care for the mentally ill.

Dorothea Dix died in 1887, one of the most passionate and dedicated advocates of populations most people of her day would have preferred to ignore.

Jay Stotts

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3-cent Paul Dudley White single

A 3-cent Great Americans Series stamp honoring Dr. Paul Dudley White was issued on September 15, 1986, in the District of Columbia. Christopher Calle based his design for the stamp on a photograph of Dr. White taken in 1969 by Fabian Bachrach.

White, the son of a family physician, was born in Roxbury, Massachusetts, in 1886. He earned his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1911, and he became a teaching fellow there in 1914. Following the death of his sister from rheumatic fever, he embarked on a lifelong study of the heart and circulatory system. For decades a leading authority on cardiovascular disease, White is today recognized as the 'Father of American Cardiology'.

During a half century of medical practice, Dr. White observed thousands of cardiac cases and conducted numerous studies in the field. He was one of the first to use the electrocardiograph, and his research did much to speed the development of new diagnosis and treatment procedures. His book, Heart Disease, first published in 1931, was considered the standard text on the subject for many years.

Following President Dwight Eisenhower’s collapse from a heart attack in 1955, White was called in as a consultant to the attending physicians. Because of his candor and ability to discuss the President's condition in terms that laymen could understand, he quickly became spokesman for the group.

While reassuring the nation of the President's recovery, White also took the opportunity to educate the nation on the risks of heart disease. To a large degree, his warnings led to a heightened interest in nutrition, exercise, and general prevention.

Paul Dudley White died in Boston on October 31, 1973.

Jay Stotts

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10-cent Red Cloud single

Born in 1822 near North Platte, Nebraska, Red Cloud became chieftain of the Ogallala Sioux Indians and led a successful campaign to halt the use of the Bozeman Trail, which crossed a popular Sioux hunting ground. He protested that it would destroy the buffalo and, thus, the livelihood of the Sioux. Red Cloud died in 1909.

The courage and leadership of American Indian tribal chiefs such as Red Cloud provided the foundation for negotiations between the United States government and native populations.

The Postal Service honored Red Cloud with the 38th issue in its Great Americans Series. Robert Alexander Anderson of Lexington, Massachusetts, designed the stamp.

Jay Stotts

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14-cent Julia Ward Howe single

"Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He has trampled down the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on."

Reflecting the stirring lyrics she wrote in "The Battle Hymn of the Republic," Julia Ward Howe (1819-1910) was a woman of remarkable vision, energy, and accomplishment.

Her popular and enduring song alone assured her a place in history, but Julia Ward Howe also influenced society as a reformer, championing abolitionist causes equal education, and professional and business opportunities for women. She also aided her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, in establishing schools and training for the blind and mentally handicapped . . . all while raising six children.

The Postal Service issued the Julia Ward Howe stamp in 1987 as part of the Great Americans Series. Ward Brackett of Westport, Connecticut, designed the stamp.

Jay Stotts

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40-cent Lillian Gilbreth single

A pioneer in industrial engineering and scientific management, Lillian M. Gilbreth (1878-1972), together with her husband and business partner, developed theories and practices to increase both labor efficiency and worker satisfaction in industry as well as at home. In 1930, Gilbreth headed Hoover's President's Emergency Committee for Unemployment Relief, helping industry and the workforce overcome the effects of the Depression. Gilbreth was the first woman elected to the National Academy of Engineering and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Her life as a professional and mother of twelve is celebrated in the book and movie 'Cheaper by the Dozen'.

The Lillian M. Gilbreth stamp was issued in 1984.

Jay Stotts

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56-cent John Harvard single

A 56-cent Great Americans Series stamp depicting seventeenth-century American colonist and philanthropist John Harvard was issued on September 3, 1986, at Cambridge, Massachusetts. The design for the single-colored crimson stamp is based on a statue of John Harvard, which stands in Harvard Court. American sculptor Daniel Chester French created the statue.

Harvard was born in Southwark, London, England, in 1607. His father and most of his siblings died of the plague of 1625. Two years later, he entered Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he earned bachelor and master of arts degrees. Harvard and his wife Anne Sadler sailed to New England in 1637, settling in Charlestown, Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was one of nearly one hundred graduates of Oxford and Cambridge universities who immigrated to Massachusetts in the colony's early years. Like his fellow immigrants, he was determined that future generations have an education equal to that available in England.

Harvard became teaching elder of the Charlestown church, and was awarded a land grant of one hundred twenty acres before his death in 1638. He bequeathed his library and half his estate to the college that had been established at Newtowne (now Cambridge), Massachusetts, in 1636. In 1639, because of the generosity of his gift, the college was named in his honor.

Jay Stotts

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$1 Bernard Revel single

A 1-dollar stamp honoring Dr. Bernard Revel, scholar and educator, was issued on September 23, 1986, in New York City. The stamp design is based on a portrait of Revel provided by Yeshiva University. Dr. Revel served as Yeshiva's president for twenty-five years, until his death in 1940. During his tenure, enrollment at Yeshiva increased tremendously. Under his leadership, the Talmudical Academy, Yeshiva College, and a graduate school of higher Jewish learning for training rabbinic leaders were established as adjuncts to the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary in New York City.

A highly regarded Talmudic scholar, Revel implemented an innovative curriculum which combined Jewish studies with a secular program emphasizing the arts, sciences, and humanities. His efforts enabled thousands of Jewish immigrants to adapt to their new land while continuing their traditional religious education.

Revel came to the United States from Pren, Lithuania, in 1906. He studied first at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary and then at the University of Pennsylvania. After receiving a masters of arts degree from New York University, he acquired a Ph.D. from Dropsie College in Philadelphia. He became a United States citizen in 1912, and in 1915 he was named president of Yeshiva, where a graduate school is now named in his honor.

Jay Stotts

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Great Americans Issue (1980-1999) | National Postal Museum

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