Great Britain issued the world's first postage stamp on May 1, 1840. The famous stamp is known as the 'Penny Black'. Reforms proposed by Postmaster General Rowland Hill and accepted by Parliament in 1839 culminated in this issue, which revolutionized postal services worldwide. Prior to its issue, there existed no systematic method of prepaying postage based on weight or destination. The reforms of 1839 included the following:
- Mail could be sent anywhere in the U.K. for one penny per half-ounce.
- Postage would be prepaid by the sender.
- Proof of prepayment would be evidenced by a small piece of gummed, colored paper affixed to the letter—in other words, a postage stamp!
The British public accepted the reforms with tremendous enthusiasm, and use of the mails soared. An additional two-penny blue stamp went on sale May 8, 1840, for letters over an ounce. Both stamps featured the likeness of the young Queen Victoria (1819-1901).