History, News, and Geography
I’ve mentioned on several pages of ROADTRIP-'62 ™ that back in 1962, I was a stamp collector. I got my start on a school field trip to our local post office, where I bought some stamps. I remember the Pony Express commemorative in particular, so that places my collecting start in 1960. Within a couple of years, I was buying whatever stamps I could with a small allowance. I’ve rounded up some highlights of philately (stamp collecting) from 1962, with some samples from my old collection for you to enjoy. (Yes, I still have that old collection!) So put away your e-mail for a few minutes and let’s look at stamps.
I’ll start off with a look at the United States stamp issues from 1962. The year started off with twin issues for the Arizona and New Mexico 50th Anniversary of statehood. That’s right, both of those states were only added to the country in 1912: they’re not even 100 years old today. Our travel route crosses several other US-numbered routes that end up in Arizona or New Mexico. Beginning at the north end of US-23, we cross US-62 in Columbus, Ohio, which cuts through the southeast corner of New Mexico. Next, at Ashland, Kentucky we cross US-60, which currently ends at Quartzsite, Arizona. In 1962, it continued west to Los Angeles, California, but the California section was abandoned in 1964. The next westward route we cross is US-70, which travels along with us from Weaverville, North Carolina to Asheville, before heading west to end at Globe, Arizona. This is another truncated route, as it used to reach Los Angeles in 1962, but California abandoned its section when the interstate freeway I-10 was completed. We cross US-64 at Franklin, North Carolina, which ends near the "Four Corners", where four states meet at one corner in northeast Arizona. The final two US routes we cross are both at Waycross, Georgia. US-82 ends near the Rio Grande River at Alamogordo, New Mexico, and US-84 crosses diagonally through New Mexico to end near the Colorado border at Pagosa Springs.
Our year of 1962 saw a worldwide interest in space-themed stamps. And with good reason, as the space race between the US and USSR was in full swing. Just the previous year, the Soviet Union (USSR), had sent the first man into space, Cosmonaut Yuri Gargarin. The United States had sent Colonel John Glenn into orbit in February, 1962 and NASA, which had under 10,000 employees in 1959, was budgeted at over 26,000 for 1963, mostly scientists and engineers. Unmanned satellites made new discoveries about the Van Allen radiation belts encircling the Earth, and the Mariner II spacecraft passed by Venus in December. The Soviet Union successfully launched a probe of Mars, and 1962 was the year of the first trans-continental television broadcast using the satellite Telstar. Much of this activity was captured on stamps of various countries. Many countries that could not take part in the space race themselves, nonetheless published stamps. The stamps show the political bias of the times, with the countries behind the Iron Curtain, dominated by the Soviet Union, touting that country’s accomplishments, and the non-communist countries mostly highlighting the United State’s accomplishments. The United States released a stamp commemorating the Glenn orbital flight on February 20, the launch date.
Another worldwide stamp theme we could collect was Malaria Eradication issues. The US stamp was issued in March and by the end of the year, nearly every country had released one. I found over 70 in the Scott Stamp Catalogue, from Afghanistan to Yugoslavia! The stamps were publicizing the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO) efforts to eradicate malaria. Of course the United Nations also published its own stamp. The anti-malaria campaign consisted mostly of spraying DDT, though it also urged installation of screens on buildings, draining of standing water that mosquitoes could use for breeding, and other measures. The campaign was initially very successful, but mosquitoes began to develop resistance to DDT and the world began to see other negative consequences from widespread spraying. One of the works that highlighted the negative consequences was Rachel Carson’s book "Silent Spring", published in 1962. A biologist, Carlson listed environmental impacts of the indiscriminate spraying of DDT in the US and questioned the logic of using large amounts of chemicals without fully understanding their effects. The WHO program wound down by about 1970 and malaria did not come close to being eradicated. Malaria is estimated to cause about 225 million cases annually, resulting in 780,000 deaths worldwide, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa. Today, there are new efforts being developed, including an experimental vaccine against malaria. Other efforts are being funded in part by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, who believes the disease can be eradicated within the next 20 years.
Other United Nations programs were also commemorated in 1962, but not a widely as the malaria efforts. Some countries commemorated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, first passed in 1948, which attempted to define rights to which all human beings are inherently entitled. Other UN organizations commemorated include the World Meteorological Organization, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and even plain old United Nations Day. In September, the UN held its first "pledging conference" to solicit donations from member nations for food to be distributed in emergencies. In 1963, stamps for the Freedom From Hunger program of The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) were issued worldwide to publicize the new program. A rather tragic United Nations connection also occurred in 1962, with the death of the UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold the previous year. Many member nations, including the United States, released a stamp in 1962 honoring him for his work.
In April, The US issued stamps commemorating the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the 150th Anniversary of Louisiana’s statehood, and the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair. The fair was celebrated with stamp issues by many countries. The Space Needle built for the fair is now the iconic centerpiece of Seattle’s skyline. World’s Fairs used to be very big tourist attractions and many were held in the United States over the years, though none along US-23. To get to Seattle from US-23, our best route would have been back at our very beginning in Mackinaw City, Michigan, where we would have crossed the Mackinac Bridge and traveled US-2 west to within a few miles of Seattle. Worlds Fairs are no longer quite the tourist draw, with the last one in the United States in 1984, in New Orleans. The United States no longer participates in the international events, skipping the Hanover, Germany fair in 2000. The US even dropped out of the Bureau of International Expositions (the international organization that sanctions world's fairs) in 2002. The most recent World’s Fair was in Shanghai, China in 2010.
Also in April, a stamp was released in the Civil War series. This series had begun in 1961, and would continue through 1965, the 100th anniversary of the war’s conclusion. The stamp for our year commemorated the Battle of Shiloh, fought in April in southwestern Tennessee. May, 1962 saw the issuance of a commemorative to the Homestead Act of 1862. This act granted people 160 acres of land at no cost. But the homesteader had to live on the land for five years and make improvements in order to obtain full title. By 1934, 1.6 million homesteads were granted 270,000,000 acres of federal land, opening huge areas of the country to settlement, mostly on the Great Plains west of the Mississippi River. The program ended in 1976, except for Alaska where it continued until 1986.
Two members of the US Congress received stamps posthumously in 1962. Senator Brien McMahon in July and Representative Sam Rayburn in August. McMahon was a leader in establishing the peaceful use of atomic power. His authorship of the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 created the Atomic Energy Commission, which has since been abolished and its functions taken over by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He died in 1952. Representative Sam Rayburn is best known as the Speaker of The House, serving several times between 1940 and his death in 1961. He served a total of seventeen years, the longest tenure of a Speaker in U.S. history. The Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, DC is named for him. As I researched these two stamps, it occurred to me that we don’t issue stamps honoring members of Congress any more. Maybe they are not as singularly important, or maybe we do not respect them as much as we did 50 years ago. I discovered that we have not issued a stamp to one since 2000, when stamps for Senator Claude Pepper and Senator Hattie Caraway were released. Today, you’re more likely to see a postage stamp honoring Dr. Seuss or a comic book character!
July was also the month the United States issued a stamp commemorating Girl Scouts. Scouting stamps were popular all over the world in 1962, with many countries celebrating the 50th anniversary of establishing Boy Scout organizations. Some of the countries celebrating such anniversaries with postage stamps were Austria, Columbia, Ceylon, Portugal, Thailand, and Barbados. Egypt celebrated its 25th year of Girl Scouts. Continuing with United States stamps, we honored education in 1962 with both the Apprenticeship Program stamp in August and a more generic Higher Education stamp in November. Education was another common theme around the world, with stamps for national reading programs, various universities, teachers, and universities.
In December, a stamp honoring American painter Winslow Homer was released. This was the second in an annual series of American artists stamps. The first, in 1961, honored Frederic Remington. Another annual postal tradition began in 1962, as the US issued its first Christmas stamp! Other countries had been issuing Christmas stamps previously and many more have jumped on this bandwagon since.
Closing out the year in stamps for the United States is a harbinger of inflation to come. First class postage was 4 cents and had been since 1958, but it would rise to 5 cents in January. A new stamp for this rate came out at the end of the year. Since 1962, postage has gone up to over ten times as much, from 4 cents to 44 cents! And next year, it will rise yet again to 45 cents. Price inflation has been a constant problem since our favorite year and shows no signs of slowing down.
I’ve touched upon a few themes that were popular subjects for stamps in 1962: what are some others? Sports was one theme, with countries commemorating a variety of games from the Commonwealth Games of the British Empire, to World Cup Soccer, to Grand Prix racing, to the Olympics. The Olympics seems an odd thing to put on stamps in 1962 because they were not held that year! But many countries bragged about past successes or their training programs. Even unusual sports like chess had a stamp in 1962, as this Bulgarian stamp announcing the 15th Chess Olympics in Varna, Bulgaria attests. The Commonwealth Games honored were the 7th, and were held in Perth, Australia that year. The World Cup Soccer Games were held in Chile in 1962 and countries had been issuing stamps celebrating the tournament since 1934. The Smithsonian Institute’s National Postal Museum offers this video of a part of the World Cup Games which became notorious for bad sportsmanship.
If you’re interested in less physical pursuits, some of those were also honored in 1962. Stamps honoring mathematicians were issued by Iraq for Al-Kindi, by Iran for Avicenna (who may have appeared on more postage stamps than any other mathematician), by Norway for Vilhelm Bjerknes, by France for Blaise Pascal, and by India for Srinivasa Ramanujan. Czechoslovakia released a series of stamps on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Union of Czechoslovak Mathematicians and Physicists, and Guinea issued a pair of stamps showing simple arithmetic, for its campaign against illiteracy.
Another popular topic was newly independent countries. As the old colonial world of Great Britain, France, Spain and Portugal gained independence, many of the new countries released stamps to commemorate the event. Some issued stamps celebrating their first anniversary of independence achieved in 1961. Jamaica achieved independence from Great Britain on August 6, 1962 and released a set of 16 stamps, mostly consisting of older stamps overprinted with the text "Independence 1962." Also in the Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago became independent. In eastern Africa, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi all became independent. Uganda gained independence from Great Britain, while Rwanda and Burundi had been a territory that Belgium held in trust for the United Nations for many years. The world feared a complete breakdown of law and order in these countries upon independence, as had happened in the adjacent Congo within the past year, but the process was instead orderly. Cameroun and Algeria, also both in Africa, became independent; Algeria only after a revolution against French rule that began in 1954. The Pacific island country of Samoa, previously called Western Samoa, also became independent in 1962. The Dominican Republic celebrated the first anniversary of the end of the regime of General Rafael Leonidas Trujillo, a dictator who had renamed the capital city of Santo Domingo to "Ciudad Trujillo" during his reign.
While not newly independent, Cuba also issued a stamp saluting their freedom. The stamp celebrated the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion, where Cuban exiles partly funded and directed by the United States, had failed to create a counter-revolution against Fidel Castro. Interestingly, in February, 1962, President Kennedy established a trade embargo against Cuba which included a prohibition on importing Cuban postage stamps to the United States. Though this prohibition appears to still exist, others from the early 1960s do not. When I was collecting, stamps from the People’s Republic of China, the People’s Republic of Vietnam, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) were also not available. They are all freely bought and sold today.
Stamps were also to commemorate philatelic events...stamps! Antigua celebrated the centenary of their first stamp issue of August, 1862. Belgium, Spain and many other countries commemorated International Stamp Day. Other countries released stamps commemorating their national postal systems, local stamp days, or stamp collecting itself. Stamps were also issued both in 1962 and today on many other topics, with some of the most common being flowers, animals, national parks, presidents or kings, other famous people, public buildings, international cooperation, arts and culture, and history.
So, how did a 9-year old build his new stamp collection in 1962? Even on a tiny allowance of 5 cents a week, it wasn’t hard. First, there were free stamps for your birthday and Christmas. More free stamps could be obtained from relatives or a friendly business that would give you stamps from their mail. There were also free offers from Popsicle and other products. For Popsicle, you just sent in some wrappers (I believe it was 10 at a time) and they sent you stamps! And, you got eat all those Popsicles first. What could be more fun when you’re 9 years old? There were also some great deals for only a dime. Several mail order companies offered a bag of hundreds of stamps for just a dime. And you got the extra fun, in my opinion, of sorting through them! Finally, there was the more expensive method of buying retail by mail or the local stamp and coin shop.
The mail order companies are still around. I found ads for H.E. Harris, Mystic Stamp Company, and Jamestown Stamp Company recently. These are all companies I remember buying from. H.E. Harris still sells retail at some hobby shops and "dime" stores too. Unfortunately, your local stamp shop is probably gone: ours in Saginaw, Michigan certainly is. With the decline in stamp collecting, coupled with the rise of purchasing online at Amazon and direct selling by individuals on eBay and other sites, it’s now difficult to make a business of selling stamps except in the larger cities. Many of these big city stamp shops now also sell online, putting a further crimp in small town stamp shops.
I hope that was fun for you, and I’d like to hear your stamp stories from 1962...just write! Maybe you’ll be inspired as I was by my trip to the back rooms of the Saginaw post office and start a collection of your own. I still find stamps fascinating because they show so much of what a society thinks about itself. One comparison I find interesting is that in 1962, most countries only released enough stamps for true postal needs, with maybe a dozen commemoratives a year. Today, many countries issue far more stamps than they need, strictly for the sales revenue they generate. They have figured out that if you publish stamps with the current fad or pop culture image on them, people will buy them even if they’re not stamp collectors! Well, I’m off to mail a postcard of our travels along Roadtrip-'62 ™ before the rates go up again. See you next week!
All photos by the author and Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc., except as noted.
All other content Copyright © 2012 - Milne Enterprises, Inc.