US Stamps

U.S. stamps feature Wright brothers and first plane

Sep 26, 2019, 10 AM

U.S. Stamp Notes by John M. Hotchner

When Orville and Wilbur Wright began experiments toward building their first airplane, they could have had only the most basic idea of the industry it would spawn. As they celebrated after the first successful flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C., in December 1903, they already had ideas for improvements and a clearer picture of the next steps.

However, the concept of postage stamps devoted to airmail service was still a few years into the future. When it came, in 1918, only Orville was alive to see it. Wilbur had passed away in 1910 at the age of 45. Orville died in 1948 at the age of 76.

The first United States stamp to celebrate the Wright brothers’ invention of powered flight was issued in 1928, the 25th anniversary. This 2¢ stamp (Scott 649), the low denomination of the International Civil Aeronautics Conference set of two, features the Wright brothers’ plane, but does not name them.

Figure 1 pictures the stamp. If you look closely, you can see a person at the controls.

It was Wilbur who made the first attempt, aloft for only 3 seconds, on Dec. 14, 1903. The plane, named the Flyer, stalled on takeoff.

After repairs, each brother piloted the plane on two of four attempts on Dec. 17. That is the day credited as the first controlled sustained flight of a powered heavier-than-air aircraft.

Orville went 120 feet in 12 seconds. Then Wilbur went 175 feet, followed by Orville going 200 feet. The final flight on that day, with Wilbur at the controls, went 852 feet in 59 seconds.

Figure 2 depicts two 6¢ airmail stamps.

Both Orville and Wilbur are pictured on the 6¢ airmail stamp issued in 1949 after Orville’s passing. The stamp (Scott C45) was issued on Dec. 17, the 46th anniversary of the first successful flight.

The 6¢ airmail stamp issued in 1953 for the 50th anniversary (Scott C47) shows small images of the 1903 Flyer and a modern plane.

The 75th anniversary was marked in 1978 by a vertical se-tenant pair of 31¢ airmail stamps (Scott C91-C92), shown in Figure 3. The two stamps depict different images of the brothers and their plane.

For the 100th anniversary in 2003, a 37¢ self-adhesive stamp was issued in a pane of 10 (Scott 3783). The stamp, shown in Figure 4, features the Flyer and is inscribed “First Flight • Wright Brothers • 1903” at the bottom. If you look closely, you can see Orville at the controls. Both brothers are pictured on the back of the pane of 10.

Other philatelic tributes include a 32¢ stamp in the Celebrate the Century pane of 15 honoring the first decade of the 20th century (Scott 3182g), and the 34¢ and 37¢ North Carolina stamps (3593, 3728) in the 2002 Greetings From America panes of 50. Figure 5 shows the 32¢ Celebrate the Century stamp and the 34¢ North Carolina stamp.

It will be interesting to see if the U.S. Postal Service commemorates the 125th anniversary of flight in 2028.

Cartoon contest

For the October cartoon caption contest, I have selected the top stamp in the 1978 Wright Brothers pair (Scott C91).

You can put yourself in the place of Orville or Wilbur and tell me what you think either might be saying or thinking, about their experiments, about how airplanes would develop, about philately, or another subject that you would like to address.

There will be two prizes given to the winners: one for the best philatelic line, and one for the best nonphilatelic line. The important thing is to use your sense of humor, because entries with a humorous twist have the best chance of winning a prize.

Put your entry (or entries) on a postcard if possible and send it to me, John Hotchner, Cartoon Contest, Box 1125, Falls Church, VA 22041-0125; or email it to If you send an email, it is essential that you include your postal mailing address.

For each winner, the prize will be a 13-week subscription to Linn’s (a new subscription or an extension). Entries must reach me no later than Oct. 25.

Connect with Linn’s Stamp News: 

    Sign up for our newsletter
    Like us on Facebook
    Follow us on Twitter