Nearly 800 people have been featured on United States postage stamps since the first one was issued in 1847, which means that even the biggest history buff is probably unfamiliar with one or two of these important figures. Here—in no particular order—are just a few of the notable names immortalized on stamps that you might not have learned about in school.
1. Harriet Quimby // 1991 stamp
Quimby was first American woman to become a licensed pilot, in 1911 (she’s pictured above), and one year later was the first woman to fly across the English Channel, though her accomplishment was largely ignored as it coincided with the sinking of the Titanic. She died tragically in 1912 during an airshow when she and a passenger were ejected from her plane.
2. Luther Burbank // 1940 stamp
In the world of horticulture and botany, Burbank is a rockstar. He developed more than 800 strains and varieties of plants and helped make plant breeding a modern science. Among his many achievements in the world of fruits, vegetables, flowers and plants, was the “plumcot” (a cross between a plum and an apricot), the fire poppy, the Shasta daisy, the “Flaming Gold" nectarine, and the “Russet Burbank potato.”
3. Adolphus W. Greely // 1986 stamp
Greely was an explorer, a Civil War lieutenant, and a recipient of the Medal of Honor who led the 1881 to 1884 Lady Franklin Bay Expedition—a journey into the Arctic Circle to establish a meteorological research station, collect astronomical and polar magnetic data, and achieve a new “Farthest North” latitude. Greely, along with six other crew members (out of the original 25), managed to survive the grueling expedition, though persistent rumors of murder and cannibalism cast a shadow over the expedition's legacy.
4. Bill Mauldin // 2010 stamp
An Army sergeant and, later, an editorial cartoonist who created the characters "Willie and Joe” to serve as stand-ins for all American soldiers during World War II. Mauldin's drawings highlighted the incredible hardships faced by servicemen and the horrors of war. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, one in 1945 and one in 1959.
5. Clyde McPhatter // 1993 stamp
You might not know the name, but you’ve probably heard McPhatter's voice, or someone who was trying to imitate it. He was an rhythm-and-blues singer in the 1950s and ‘60s, and helped to shape the genre. “A Lover’s Question” was (and is) his best known solo track, before he went on to sing with Billy Ward and the Dominoes and form the Drifters. He was the first artist ever to become a double inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
6. Edgar Bergen // 1991 stamp
A ventriloquist, actor, comedian and radio personality, best known for the Edgar Bergen & Charlie McCarthy Show. (Charlie was his puppet.) He is also the father of actress Candice Bergen.
7. Ida B. Wells // 1990 stamp
A Civil Rights advocate, speaker, feminist, journalist, and suffragist who gained national attention when she led an anti-lynching crusade in the 1890s. She became a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and went on to champion countless other organizations and causes.
8. Babe Zaharias // 1981 stamp
Mildred Ella "Babe" Didrikson Zaharias was an Olympian in track and field, and later a golf pro. She earned her nickname essentially the same way as another famous “Babe”—for excelling in her sports of choice. At the Olympics, she medaled in hurdles, javelin, and high jump; the Associated Press named her the Greatest Female Athlete of the first half of the 20th century.
9. Lee De Forest // 1973 stamp
His invention—the Audion vacuum tube—doesn’t do much to stir the imagination unless you know what it is. The innovation, which amplifies electrical signals, made live radio broadcasting possible and was used in televisions, telephones, and even early computer systems before the transistor came along. He is considered the “father of radio” and the “grandfather of television.”
10. Thomas Lynch, Jr. // 1976 stamp
Lynch was only 27 years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence as a member of Congress from South Carolina. His father was also a member of Congress, though the elder was unable to sign because of a stroke. In 1779 Lynch, Jr. and his wife set sail for France in the hope of improving his failing health. The ship disappeared during the journey and Lynch was never heard from again.
11. Hillary Long // 2014 stamp
A circus performer who, according to this 1917 Ringling Bros. poster, could put his skates upon his head and wear his hat upon his feet “while accomplishing apparently impossible stunts.” Not much is known about the “up side down man.” He started performing in 1911 with the Frank A. Robbins show, died of tuberculosis in 1930, and even patented a few of his acrobatic contraptions.
12. Joshua Johnson // 1998 stamp
The first (known) professional African-American painter, famed for his work in portraiture. He was born around 1763 in Baltimore, though little else is known about his background. In an advertisement in the Baltimore Intelligencer from 1798, Johnson described himself as a "self-taught genius.”
13. Wabokieshiek // 1998 stamp
Translated as “White Cloud,” Wabokieshiek was known as “The Prophet,” and was a medicine man, as well as a friend and adviser to Chief Black Hawk. He was a member of the Winnebago and Sauk tribes in Illinois during the early 19th century, and greatly influenced both.
14. Ruth Benedict // 1995 stamp
A pioneer in the field of cultural anthropology, Benedict is widely regarded for her 1934 ethnography, Patterns of Culture, which studies three groups—the Zuni of the United States, the Kwakiutl of Canada, and the Dobuans of Melanesia. Benedict studied under Franz Boas, who has been called the “father of modern anthropology."
15. Kamehameha I of Hawaii // 1937 stamp
An iconic figure in Hawaiian history, Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands and ruled them from 1810 until his death in 1819. He gained leadership through a series of conquests as well as peaceful negotiations over the course of decades. Today, he is seen as a strong ruler, who preserved Hawaii’s independence and reigned over a peaceful period in the region’s history.