FDR & Stamps of the Great Depression

The Stamp Collector in Chief Video

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Chief Curator of Philately Cheryl Ganz explains President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's passion for stamp collecting in the video, Stamp Collector in Chief, produced by Smithsonian.com.

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FDR was a stamp collector his entire

life then he didn't just collect stamps

he collected a lot of other things too

but as he collected stamps they were

away he could learn all about the world

and geography and history and culture

when he got polio they offered him a

great opportunity to study his stamps

when he was bedridden and couldn't do

much else as he became an adult the

stamps took on a new meaning because now

he could use them as a stress buster

so every night a half hour before he'd

go to bed even when he was in the White

House he would go and work on his stamps

empty his mind of all his troubles of

the day and be able to sleep comfortably

this methodical method of taking this

pile of stamps that are in total chaos

and putting them in order was a very

relaxing thing for him to do here we had

a man taking a world in chaos because of

the depression because of the war and

able to put it in order as well Herbert

Hoover was a stamp collector Gerald Ford

was a stamp collector but for FDR his

stamp collecting was a true passion so

it became a big part of his life that's

part of why it was incorporated into so

much of his presidency and he used his

postage stamps to help sell his New Deal

programs to help reinforce his role as

president against his critics and to

reach out to all kinds of voter bases

using postage stamps when Postmaster

General James Farley brought four

designs to the president for a bird

expedition stamp and this was to honor

the arctic explorer Richard Byrd who is

planning an expedition to the South Pole

FDR looked at these four designs he says

no no that's not gonna work and he

grabbed a piece of paper drew a map and

then on that map with the continents

drew dotted lines that showed the routes

of all the Byrd expeditions and he said

do something more like this so they went

back and the artists at the Bureau of

Engraving and printing created a new

model brought it back to FDR for

approval in FDR goes nope

you got one of those dotted lines wrong

that's not accurate for the way his

route was they went back and checked and

sure enough FDR had been right all along

in 1934 they issued a three cent stamp

Honorine mother's day started out with

the idea to be a stamp to honor the

famous artist James Whistler at the same

time some women were lobbying that they

wanted a Mother's Day Stamp FDR said

let's combine the two

FDR draws a sketch showing the Whistler

mother basic design and said this will

honor mothers in America and will issue

it just before Mother's Day so everybody

can use the stamp on all their cards and

letters to their mothers FDR was very

strong about the idea that he wanted a

stamp to honor the first British colony

in the United States and it's three

hundred and fiftieth anniversary he also

not just designed the concept of what

should be on the stamp but he clearly

said I want it to be a square stamped

the first stamp created as a square

stamp and he wanted it to be baby blue

that time it was incredibly unusual for

a stamp to be such a soft soft color but

under FDR he required that a lot of

stamps be lighter in color and the idea

of all of that was to kind of lighten

the load during the Great Depression in

1938 Farley had a campaign called

national airmail week the idea was every

town in America should send airmail and

have a special design on envelopes that

would promote their hometown and tied to

that was a new airmail stamp FDR

designed that stamp and he considered it

to be his one true stamp design where he

got the entire idea himself from scratch

took the American Eagle drew it and put

a box around it and he required that it

be in red white and blue for the

national colors in 1939 four states

Washington Montana North and South

Dakota all wanted their own stamp to

honor their statehood FDR looked at that

and said gee they're all in the same

region he got a piece of paper and he

drew the four states on one stamp he

says do a map and show all four states

at the same time they gave each state

some recognition by themselves because

each one got their own first day of

issue ceremony President Roosevelt and

James Farley worked to

other to portray their New Deal programs

on postage stamps in a way that would

give a positive message of hope and

optimism to the people they would show

things like the Boulder Dam on stamp

that was a major works project and there

was a series of stamps for the 75th

anniversary of the national parks they

had a special stamp for the National

Recovery administration when we were in

World War two he would have all his

generals talked to about the war in the

Pacific he knew every island name of the

island where it was located how large it

was what was the population what they

produced and he knew all of that because

of stamp collecting