31 Days of History: 1 July

Here’s the first of 31 Days of History. Since it’s the first day, we’ll start slowly.

The United States Postal Service was established in 1775 (with Benjamin Franklin serving as the first Postmaster General), but the first stamps weren’t issued until 1847. On 1 July, 1847 (162 years ago today), the first postage stamps were offered for sale in New York City. There were two varieties, a 5¢ and 10¢ stamp. The 5¢ stamp had a picture of Benjamin Franklin, and the 10¢ stamp had a picture of George Washington.

The first US postage stamp, a 5¢ value, with Benjamin Franklin's picture

The 5¢ stamp paid for a letter weighing less than 1 oz and travelling less than 300 miles, while the 10¢ stamp was good for deliveries to locations greater than 300 miles. Each stamp was hand engraved on a steel plate, and laid out in sheets of 200 stamps. The stamps were an immediate success; about 3,700,000 of the 5¢ and about 865,000 of the 10¢ were sold,

George Washington on the 10¢ stamp

(For all you stamp collectors out there---unused stamps are worth around $6,000 and $28,000 respectively, if in very fine condition.)

What’s the connection to DC? The United States Postal Museum is located next door to Union Station, at the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and North Capitol. It’s got a surprisingly good museum -remember the story of Owner, the Postal Mascot? He can be found here, along with a couple of prime examples of the first stamps.

The National Postal Museum

What's the inscription above the door say?
Carrier of News and Knowledge
Instrument of Trade and Industry
Promoter of Mutual Acquaintance
Of Peace and of Goodwill
Among Men and Nations

Coming Up in the Month of July

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the historical significance of the DC vicinity, but since I really enjoy it, and we have such a limited time in the area, I’m going to start an ambitious project for the month of July. For every day in July, I’m going to highlight a historical event, or person, or connection that occurred on that day and tie it into the DC area. If possible, I’ll throw in some original photos of that event, and attempt to make the connection to yours-truly. Come back on the Wednesday for the first installment.