¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 The last chapter discussed how the Interwar years in the US brought tremendous interest in local and regional history, and commemoration of colonial and Revolution-related events. These activities continued into the 1930s with a big booster: the federal government. Letter writing campaigns to the USPOD continued into the 1930s, as civic and political groups saw there was power in circulating messages on stamps. Beginning in 1933, commemorative selections retreat from featuring regional and local anniversaries, and instead focus on celebrating state anniversaries, broad national themes, and supporting contemporary federal programs. Much of this shift comes after the election of President, and philatelist, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). He used the commemorative stamp program to build popular support for his federal initiatives. He understood that the visual language of stamps, printed by the USPOD, carried great power and could reach large numbers of Americans. Stamp collecting already appealed to many different people in first half of twentieth century, and as a philatelist, FDR saw collecting grow as a hobby from the nineteenth into the twentieth century. During FDR’s first term, the USPOD printed more special commemoratives than in previous administrations.1
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 During Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency, federal participation in and supervision of historical interpretation, practices, and preservation grew tremendously through a number of Depression-era programs. Prior to his election, federal public history work was very de-centralized. There was no national archive or federal history museum system, and the Smithsonian’s National Museum divided its exhibition space among collections representing many fields in the arts and sciences. Congress hesitated to take over locally-controlled sites when asked, while other sites maintained a strong legacy of female management through heritage societies who fought to keep interpretative control over sites they cared for.2 Interest in promoting local and regional traditions continued as more Americans researched their family histories with help from genealogical bureaus that assisted researchers and encouraged individuals from non-elite families to discover their ancestral roots. These strong localized components complemented federal history initiatives during the New Deal. Folklife and the arts received attention as essential components of American culture, while the Federal Writers’ Project, various federal art projects, and the Historical American Building Survey employed hundreds of artists, historians, writers and elevated their work in communities across the country as nationally-significant. Through these programs, the federal government demonstrated a serious commitment to preserving history from the ground up and as a patron of the arts in ways not been in the past.3
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 The Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts (the Section), commissioned art and murals for local post offices and other public buildings. Unlike New Deal programs that offered employment aid, this federal program selected artists through a competition and then encouraged artists to seek input from local communities. Artists then composed mural scenes reflecting regional practices, significant events, and individuals, and occasionally aspects of postal operations. Citizens, local press, postmasters, and the Section engaged in dialogue and debate over the subjects and artistic styles represented in murals.4 Given the centrality of post offices to American life in the early twentieth century, murals in post office buildings were widely seen–enjoyed or disliked–across the country. Citizens saw federal investment in historical narratives circulated on stamps, post office walls, and in national parks and historic sites.
¶ 4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 The USPOD had been involved in history work since the late nineteenth century with its commemorative program, but that work never included historians. NPS officials were much more systematic in their approach to selecting sites for federal protection and interpretation. They developed criteria based on persistent themes they devised for major time periods to construct a progressive narrative of the American past.6 In contrast, the UPSOD never turned to or employed historians for guidance in making their commemorative selections. Instead, the office of the Third Assistant Postmaster General in consultation with the Postmaster General—political appointees—balanced the requests, and pressure, from citizens and their Congressional representatives when selecting figures and historical scenes for stamps that carried national significance. By the time the NPS sought suggestions for new historic parks, civic boosters and history enthusiasts already knew they could petition their government to ask that their favorite historic site, event anniversary, or hero represent the United States through publication on a postage stamp. NPS may have benefited from the USPOD’s established process.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 During the 1930s, individuals and political groups demanded commemoratives that more fully represented the American past, including African American achievements and women’s suffrage, as the USPOD continued its role as an arbiter of cultural symbols. Stamp collecting surged in popularity during the Depression years, and more individuals saw, saved, and valued commemoratives as miniature memorials. When saved in an album, collectors reviewed and reflected on a stamp’s imagery and often researched the scenes and individuals represented. Subjects chosen to represent the US on a commemorative stamp lived on beyond the time period of their issue.
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Thomas J. Alexander, “Farley’s Follies,” Arago: People, Postage and the Post (Washington, D.C.: National Postal Museum), accessed June 21, 2009, http://www.arago.si.edu/index.asp?con=4&cmd=2&eid=8&slide=toc. ↩
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 Patricia Raynor, “New Deal Post Office Murals,” EnRoute, (October-December 1997), http://postalmuseum.si.edu/research/articles-from-enroute/off-the-wall.html; Karal Ann Marling, Wall-to-Wall America: Post Office Murals in the Great Depression (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982). ↩
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 0 Denise D. Meringolo, Museums, Monuments, and National Parks: Toward a New Genealogy of Public History (Univ. of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 95–105; 153; John E Bodnar, Remaking America: Public Memory, Commemoration, and Patriotism in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1992), 177–81. ↩