Telling the Story of a Nation

Ordinary Citizens

32-cent Breakfast in Bed stamp
A stamp featuring the love between a mother and daughter. Such imagery is typical of American Impressionist Mary Cassatt.
32-cent Boatmen On The Missouri stamp
Geroge Bingham's painting showing common boatsmen on the Mississippi River. This work attempts to portray a feeling of hope felt by many Americans due to westward expansion.

Men such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln shaped the history of the United States and guided the nation through conflict, in both politics and war. These two men have become symbols of democracy, freedom and the American spirit. However, there are many other American citizens who embody America's democracy, freedom and spirit. They did not sign the Declaration of Independence or lead the nation, but they make up an integral part of the American identity. American artists have painted these families, farmers, sailors, pioneers, Native Americans, and city dwellers in an attempt to display the American nation. Throughout the twentieth century, stamp designers have chosen this art to celebrate America and its diverse population.

5-cent Charles M. Russell stamp
Known as "Jerked Down," this work by Charles M. Russell depicts the American cowboy.

Between 1847 and 1868, US stamps exclusively featured various Founding Fathers. As time passed, stamps celebrated prominent figures and important events. However, towards the latter half of the 20th century, designers featured a larger variety of people, objects and themes on stamps. Cartoon characters, sports, wildlife and many other topics soon became typical stamp images. The depiction of common citizens and the celebration of the artists who portrayed them stands out as some of the most engaging details in the continuing story of using American art on postage stamps.

American artist Norman Rockwell, sculptor Isamu Noguchi and photographer Dorothea Lange along with many others have used their chosen mediums to portray ordinary Americans. Many of their works along with the works of other artists have been adapted for use on US postage stamps.