Wisconsin School Tour Day 1: Postal History at Waukesha South High School


By Alexander Haimann, Collections Specialist

Stamp with an illustration of a cat who has bright eyes
© United States Postal Service. All rights reserved.

"Bright Eyes?!?" proclaimed one student in Mr. Mertes's 9th grade U.S. History Class at Waukesha, Wisconsin's South High School. The student was responding to the 1998 Bright Eyes Issue composed of five stamps depicting a cat, fish, parakeet, dog and a hampster with....Bright Eyes. This was just one of the fun examples illustrating the diversity of topics featured on United States postage stamps that I provided to students during presentations (utilizing the NPM's virtual museum) to eight high school classes last Monday, October 5, 2009, at the start of a three-day tour of Wisconsin schools.

Alexander Haimann talking in front of a classroom of students

The planning for this three-day marathon trip to Wisconsin resulting in presentations to students in grades 5-12 in five different schools began six months ago when a retired school teacher from the Waukesha school district, MaryAnn Bowman contacted me. At the time of her first email, I was already aware of her important work bringing stamps and postal history to the attention of young people across the United States. Over the course of the summer we worked out the details for me to deliver presentations relating to different periods of American and World History for 9-12th grade regular history and Advanced Placement (AP) classes. Additionally, we made arrangements for me to give relevant presentations to high school Economics, Crime & Law and elementary school art classes.

The first day of the trip focused exclusively on Waukesha South High School. Each of the eight classes began with a similar explanation of the NPM's collection website and the process behind its creation. Following the digital portion of each presentation, I used a number of authentic historical objects from the 18th-20th century to illustrate different subject areas within U.S. and world history.

Alexander Haimann talking in front of a classroom of students

Examples of these objects include a Bill of Lading from 1772 confirming the receipt of fifty-three barrels of common flour for shipment from Philadelphia to England, a Presidential Land Grant signed by President James Madison in 1812, a folded cover using one of the first U.S. stamps--the 1847 5-cent Franklin--to prepay the postage, and a cover sent from someone in the Confederacy during the Civil War to a prisoner of war being held in a Federal POW camp in Ohio. For the world history classes, I had a folded letter with the world's first postage stamp--the "Penny Black" used on it to prepay the postage along with a plethora of other covers sent to countries all over the world in the late 19th and early 20th century.

Student looking at a historic document

All the students in Mr. Mertes's history and Mr. White's economics classes were attentive and especially receptive to the sections in the presentations where they had the opportunity to hold the different historical objects described above in their hands. I would have happily presented to more classes at Waukesha South High School for my entire stay in Wisconsin, but I had classes scheduled the next day at South's cross-town rival--Waukesha North High School.

Alex Haimann

About the Author
Alexander T. Haimann, Collections Specialist & Web Projects Developer at the Smithsonian National Postal Museum, collects and writes primarily about the stamps and postal history of the U.S. during the first one hundred years of stamp production (1847-1947). Additionally, he develops internet based education projects and exhibits for the National Postal Museum. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the American Stamp Dealers Association, the Chair of the American Philatelic Society’s Young Philatelic Leaders Fellowship and the publicist for the United State Philatelic Classics Society. His national and international society memberships include the American Philatelic Society, United States Stamp Society, Collectors Club of New York and the Royal Philatelic Society London.