1901 Pan-American Exposition Stamps

by Hank van der Linde

Ottawa Philatelic Society United States Study Group

October 2012




The Pan-American Exposition was held in Buffalo, New York from May 1 to November 2, 1901. This World’s Fair, dubbed the “City of Lights”, showcased recent technological advances such as the akouphone (hearing aid), color printing, drinking fountains, the electric typewriter, the facsimile telegraph, the X-ray machine, instant coffee, motor bicycles, steel bridges, long distance power transmission and storage batteries.



It also highlighted advances in transportation. At the time, Buffalo was the eighth-largest city in the United States with a population of roughly 350,000 people. Buffalo also had good railroad connections — the city was within a day's journey by rail for over 40 million people in Canada and the US. And, it was close to Niagara Falls, which was a huge tourist attraction. The exposition’s “Pan-American” theme proved popular in the wake of the Spanish-American War with over 8,000,000 visitors. The price of admission was $0.25 which is equivalent to $7.00 today.


The exposition also gained some negative notoriety with the assassination of President William McKinley, on September 6, 1901. He was standing in a receiving line when he was shot twice by an anarchist. Ironically, the operating room at the exposition's emergency hospital did not have any electric lighting, even though the exteriors of many of the buildings were covered with thousands of light bulbs which was intended to highlight the recently developed ability to transmit AC electricity long distances from Niagara Falls. Doctors used a pan to reflect sunlight onto the operating table as they treated McKinley's wounds. They also did not use the newly developed X-ray machine as they feared possible negative consequences. He died a week later.


A set of six commemorative stamps were issued in conjunction with this exposition. As with the Columbian and Trans-Mississippi Exposition "commemorative" stamps, the Pan-American stamps were issued to promote an exposition, not to commemorate anything. These commemorative stamps may just as well be referred to as promotional stamps.


The law prohibited the use of advertisements on U.S. postage stamps, hence "Commemorative Series, 1901" was placed on each stamp, rather than the name of the exposition itself. The inability to advertise directly resulted in a variety of Pan-American Exposition cancellations promoting and providing souvenirs for the event. Many of the cancellations and covers bearing these cancellations are very collectible today.


As a result of the negative reaction to high value stamps issued when the Columbian and Trans-Mississippi Exposition commemoratives were issued, the Post Office Department decided to restrict this commemorative set to six stamps with the highest value being 10 cents. The surprising result was that the Post Office made more money than with previous sets due to the affordability of this set.


The designs of the frames of the Pan-American stamps are quite large in comparison to the size of the stamps themselves and well-centered copies bring quite a premium. The stamp was printed in two steps, first the vignette, the illustration was printed in black and then the frame surrounding it was printed. Since it was difficult for the printer to place the sheets in exactly the correct position for the frame to be printed perfectly centered, some shifts occurred.


The number of stamps printed for each issue is known. All unsold stock was returned to the Post Office Department after the exposition closed; they were destroyed but no record was kept of the number. Hence, the number of sold stamps is not known. The first day of issue for these stamps was May 1, 1901, the opening day of the exposition.


As mentioned, the theme was the increasing advances in technology and the role it would play in America’s future development. All of the stamps signify the role that increased speed would play in the delivery of goods driving the burgeoning economy, even though the automobile had not yet reached the distinction of being "fast".





The one cent “Fast Lake Navigation” stamp (Scott # 294) portrays the steamship “State of Ohio” which operated on the Great L


akes. It was built in 1880 in Wyandotte, Michigan using the engine from a Lake Champlain steamer, the “United States” and the cabins from another Lake Champlain steamer, the “Adirondack”. She was considered the handsomest and fastest steamer on the Great Lakes achieving 19 miles/hour. Originally she sailed between Detroit and Alpena under the name “City of Alpena”. After 1893 she plied the Cleveland to Buffalo route under the name “State of Ohio”. Shifts during the printing process has resulted in “fast”, “slow” and “sinking” varieties as well as a few inverted centres. In total 91,401,500 stamps were issued. The 1 cent rate was for post cards.




The two cent “Fast Express” stamp (Scott # 295) portrays the “Empire State


Express” of the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad. It was the world’s first high speed passenger train when on September 14, 1891 it travelled 436 miles (New York City to Buffalo) in 7 hours and 6 minutes including scheduled stops; an average of 61.4 miles/hour. G. H. Daniels, the General Passenger Agent for the New York Central lobbied hard for the Empire State Express to be portrayed on a stamp as the railway was an important New York State institution. As is the case with the one cent stamps, shifts during printing has resulted in “fast” and “slow” trains and some inverted centres.


In total 209,759,700 stamps were issued. The two cent rate was the domestic letter rate/ ounce.


The four cent “Automobile” stamp (Scott # 296) portrays an electric automobile with the US Capitol Dome in the background. The automobile


was referred to as an “Electric Service Vehicle” or what we now call a taxi. The image was based on a turn of the century Baltimore and Ohio Railroad flyer. This stamp has also generated some discussion as to whether it portrays the first living person to be depicted on a stamp.

The two men on the front seat are the chauffeurs


while the person inside the electric automobile is Mr. Samuel P. Hege who was the   B & O’s Passenger Representative in Washington. At the time, there were more electric automobiles than those powered by gaso


line. Although there were some shifts during printing, there were no inverted centres. These only occurred when the Post Office deliberately had some printed and had them over stamped with “specimen”. In total 5,737,100 were issued.


The five cent “Bridge at Niagara Falls” stamp (Scott # 297) portrays the largest single span steel bridge in the world, traversing the Niagara River Gorge at the famous falls. It was built in 1898. The stamp shows two trolley cars crossing the bridge linking the U.S. and Canada. Niagara Falls was an integral part of the World's Fair in Buffalo. The hydroelectric power that it generated was delivered to the exposition as a result of the recently developed 3 phase AC which powered the spectacular "City of Lights"; the most breath-taking display of electric light to that date, and one of the highlights of the Fair. The bridge collapsed in January 1938 as a result of an ice jam which grew to height of 65 feet. A total of 7,201,300 stamps were issued. The five cent rate was the first class rate for foreign destinations.


The eight cent “Sault de Ste. Marie Canal Locks” stamp (Scott # 298) portrays the canal locks at Sault de Ste. Marie which were the largest in the world when they were built in 1895. As with the "Bridge at Niagara Falls" stamp, this stamp illustrates a spirit of international co-operation, with the sister cities Sault Sainte Marie, Michigan and Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario sharing the honours. The locks were a great engineering feat and were the first to use electricity to operate. This canal did much to promote commerce in the Midwest, providing navigational links between Lake Superior and Lake Huron and therefore the rest of the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. A total of 4,921,700 stamps were issued. The eight cent rate was the registered fee for a letter.


The ten cent “Fast Ocean Navigation” stamp (Scott # 298) portrays the American Liner steamship, St. Paul which was built in 1895. The St. Paul's claim to fame was that it was the first commercial ship to be commissioned as a warship during the Spanish-American War. In total, 5,043,700 stamps were issued. This rate paid both the letter and registration fees.







To commemorate the centenary of the 1901 Pan American Exposition, the USPS in 2001 issued a Pan-American Inverts Souvenir Sheet (Scott # 3505) with the reproduction of the three 1901 stamps that had inverts as well as four of the 80 cent new issue valid for international postage. In the illustration, an allegorical female representing unity among the Americas stands on top of a globe. In her left hand she holds a flag - half Canadian, half American - and her right arm rests on the back of a buffalo. The globe shows the western hemisphere and includes the words "Pan-American Exposition 1901. Buffalo, NY, USA." Niagara Falls appears in the background. In total 14,000,000 were printed – a fraction of the amount originally issued in 1901.