Columbians Honored by the U.S. Post Office

Columbia physics professor Chien-Shiung Wu was recently honored by the U.S. Post Office with a commemorative stamp. This well-deserved honor has been granted to a number of Columbia faculty, alumni and even to the University itself during its 200th anniversary.

Prof. Wu is the third female physicist and second Columbia physicist – the other is Enrico Fermi – to be so honored. She joins a distinguished group of stamp-honored Columbia faculty which includes Virginia Apgar (Physicians & Surgeons), Edwin Armstrong (Electrical Engineering), Ruth Benedict (Anthropology), John Dewey (Philosophy) and Charles Evans Hughes (Law). In addition to the numerous alumni (see list below), stamps have also celebrated Dwight D. Eisenhower (former University President), Daniel Chester French (sculptor of the Alma Mater), Joseph Pulitzer (founder of the School of Journalism) and Joe DiMaggio (honorary degree recipient in 1990). 

Columbia Bicentennial stamp, 1954. National Postal Museum.

Back April 1949, the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp for Washington and Lee University’s bicentennial year. A few months later, in July 1949, University President Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote to U.S. President Harry Truman about the Post Office issuing a commemorative stamp for Columbia’s own bicentennial celebration. Truman replied that 1954 was beyond the end of his term in office but that Eisenhower should write directly to the Postmaster General. In his reply in December 1949, the Acting Postmaster General explained to General Eisenhower that the stamp was issued because Washington and Lee originally operated on an endowment provided by the First President and also that the 80th Congress had passed legislation to observe this celebration, Public Law 636. 

Starting in February 1953, Columbia asked Congress to pass a resolution for the U.S. Post Office to commemorate the University’s Bicentennial (1754-1954) on a postage stamp. Columbians now had reasons to be hopeful: former University President Eisenhower had just moved into the White House. In October 1953, the proposal was approved by the U.S. Postmaster General. The University submitted possible designs for the stamp, including a view of Low Memorial Library; the Columbia University seal; a portrait of Samuel Johnson, first president of the University; and the Bicentennial medallion; but stamp designs, they were told, were created by the artists at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. 

Post office substation at Low Library, 1954. Scan 0993. Historical Photograph Collection, University Archives.

On January 4, 1954, the Columbia University Bicentennial stamp featuring Low Library and the Bicentennial’s theme (Man’s Right to Knowledge and the Free Use Thereof) went on sale. The stamp was designed by Victor S. McCloskey, Jr. from the Bureau of Engraving and Printing. At a morning ceremony, New York State Governor Thomas E. Dewey gave a short speech and a 50-piece post office band performed (during classes!). At a special post office substation in the east corridor of Low Library, over $50,000 worth of the 3-cent postage stamp honoring Columbia University sold on that first day. The presentation of the stamp was the first public ceremony that helped kick-off the year-long celebration of the Bicentennial in 1954. The honor was repeated in 2003, when a 23-cent stamp printed on a postcard celebrated Columbia’s 250th anniversary.

Columbia alumni on stamps
  • Shirley Chisholm (TC 1951)
  • Eddie Collins (CC 1907)
  • Anna Julia Cooper (GSAS student 1911)
  • Amelia Earhart (University Extension student 1919-1920, 1925)
  • Lou Gehrig (CC student 1921-1923)
  • Alexander Hamilton (King’s College student 1774–1776)
  • Oscar Hammerstein II (CC 1916, Law 1916-1917)
  • Marguerite Higgins (Journalism 1942)
  • Charles Evans Hughes (Law 1884)
  • Langston Hughes (Engineering student 1921-1922)
  • Zora Neale Hurston (BC 1928, GSAS student 1934-1935)
  • John Jay (King’s College 1764)
  • Robert R. Livingston (King’s College 1765)
  • Margaret Mead (BC 1923; PhD 1929)
  • Isamu Noguchi (CC student 1923-1925)
  • Georgia O’Keefe (TC student 1914-1915)
  • Frances Perkins (MA 1910)
  • James Renwick, Jr. (CC 1836, MA 1839)
  • Paul Robeson (Law 1923)
  • Franklin Delano Roosevelt (Law student 1905-1907)
  • Theodore Roosevelt (Law student 1880-1882)
  • Harlan F. Stone (Law 1898)