The American Spirit of Innovation
Five first-class Forever stamps celebrating innovation were issued on August 20 during the Virtual Stamp Show held jointly by the American Philatelic Society, the American First Day Cover Society and American Topical Association.
The stamps celebrate the American spirit of innovation in the modern era, each representing an area in which U.S. scientists and engineers have made significant contributions. Some of the innovations in which Americans have played a major role include the integrated circuit, vaccine research, magnetic resonance imaging and elastography, neural implants, genome sequencing, CRISPR, robotic prosthetic limbs and the photovoltaic cell.
Art director Antonio Alcalá designed the stamps and chose details from an existing photograph for each. The stamp designs represent computing (circuit board), biomedicine (immune system cells), genome sequencing (DNA chromatogram), robotics (bionic ankle-foot prothesis) and solar technology (square solar cell). The word “innovation” in capital letters overlays each image in chrome foil.
The stamps are sold in panes of 20 – four rows of five – with an alternating stamp atop each column, therefore creating four distinct horizontal strips and five unique vertical strips.
Computing is represented by a green integrated circuit board — the kind that powers computers, gaming systems, smartphones and all things digital. The integrated circuit is the electronic marvel that rests at the heart of modern-day computing.
Biomedicine is represented by images of immune-system cells to highlight the laboratory-based discipline focused on studying living beings and biological processes.
Genome sequencing is represented by multi-colored DNA strips, part of the 3 billion chemical-based pairs of the human genetic code. In 2003, scientists completed the daunting task of deciphering the code, also called the “building blocks” of life.
Robotics is represented by a black-and-white image of a bionic ankle-foot prosthesis, one example of machines that perform a variety of tasks, including assembling cars, exploring the ocean’s depths, and helping doctors diagnose ailments.
Solar technology is represented by a square, blue solar cell that converts sunlight into electricity. First used to power space satellites, solar cells are also used to heat and cool residential and commercial buildings.
“This stamp series captures the innovative spirit that drives progress and prosperity . . . It comes at a time when innovation is more important than ever.”
At least three of the stamp images were created by photographer Andy Ryan, according to a story by Alexandra Kahn from MIT News.
The image shown on the robotics stamp is a bionic prosthesis designed and built by Matt Carney, PhD, and members of the biomechatronics group led by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Hugh Herr, according to Kahn’s recent story.
The image, along with those on the computing and solar technology stamps, was taken by Ryan, whose portfolio spans images from around the world, and who for many years has been capturing the MIT experience, Kahn wrote. Ryan suggested the bionic work of the biomechatronics group to the Postal Service to represent the future of robotics.
“I was aware that Hugh Herr and his research team were incorporating robotic elements into the prosthetic legs they were developing and testing,” Ryan said, according to Kahn’s story. “This vision of robotics was, in my mind, a true depiction of how robots and robotics would manifest and impact society in the future.”
With encouragement from Herr, Ryan submitted high definition, stylized, and close-up images of Carney working on the group's latest designs.
Kahn wrote that Carney was psyched about being connected to a stamp: “In his childhood, Carney himself collected stamps from different corners of the globe, and so the selection of his research for a U.S. postal stamp has been especially meaningful.
“It's a freakin’ honor to have my PhD work featured as a USPS stamp,” Carney says, breaking into a big smile. “I hope this feat is an inspiration to young students everywhere to crush their homework, and to build the skills to make a positive impact on the world. And while I worked insane hours to build this thing — and really tried to inspire with its design as much as its engineering — it's truly the culmination of powered prosthesis work pioneered by Dr. Hugh Herr and our entire team at the Media Lab's Biomechatronics group, and it expands on work from a global community over more than a decade of development.”
The stamps were formally released during the Virtual Stamp Show and celebrated in a virtual first day of issue ceremony. Taking part in the ceremony were representatives of the three groups that sponsored the Virtual Stamp Show, emcee Lloyd de Vries, president of the American First Day Cover Society; Scott English, executive director of the American Philatelic Society; and Bill DeWitt, of the American Topical Association. The official first day cancel is Bellefonte, Pa., home of the APS and the American Philatelic Center.
De Vries noted how the hobby of stamp collecting often uses innovation – from using digital devices at stamp shows to sales via the internet – to further the hobby. DeWitt gave a background of how transportation innovation, so vital to the historic growth of postal services, is celebrated on stamps. English remarked about the innovation of the first major virtual stamp show and how the APS will continue to use innovation will be used to connect collectors from across the world.
Steve Monteith, chief customer and marketing officer for the US Postal Service, narrated the official first day of issue video from the USPS. He noted how the Postal Service has constantly used innovation in its 245 years of service. Mail once sorted by hand and delivered via horse-drawn wagon later helped spur the commercial air industry while automatic equipment processed half a billion letters a day. Innovations such as solar power and robots are among the current innovations in use.
Monteith was joined by Andrei Iancu, director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, and Wendy Wintersteen, president of Iowa State University, home to the Iowa State Student Innovation Center.
“The United States will always be a nation of thinkers, doers, inventors and entrepreneurs,” Iancu said. “Thank you to the U.S. Postal Service for celebrating American innovation.”
Wintersteen spoke to the innovations Iowa State has specifically been involved with, including the development of electronic computers and sequence of the corn genome.
“This stamp series captures the innovative spirit that drives progress and prosperity,” Wintersteen said. “It comes at a time when innovation is more important than ever.”
A segment of this column was originally published in the October 2020 issue of The American Philatelist.