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Address at Dedication of John Muir Commemorative Postage Stamp

William M. McMillan, Assistant Postmaster General

At the Dedication of John Muir Commemorative Postage Stamp,

Martinez, California 11 a.m. (PST), April 29, 1964


It is a genuine pleasure to be with you today and to represent President Lyndon Johnson and Postmaster General John A. Gronouski in these ceremonies for the John Muir commemorative postage stamp.

I'd like to congratulate the John Muir Memorial Association and the Martinez Area Chamber of Commerce for the elaborate plans made for the observance of John Muir week in Contra Costa County.

John Muir once said that he was a citizen of the Universe. He was indeed - because the great naturalist's consuming interest in the wonders of Nature took him to distant places.

But he always came back home to California, and it was here that he made what were perhaps his most significant contributions to the American people -- the establishment of Yosemite and Kings Canyon national parks.

His powerful writing -- in magazine, newspapers and books -- awakened the Nation to the need for conserving our natural resources.

Much of this writing had a poetic quality to it that made it doubly appealing today.

I wonder how many of you have heard the story about John Muir's pen? One day, as he stood on Mt. Hoffman, a great golden eagle circled above him. Then a feather fell to Muir's feet - a quill from a golden eagle. Muir took out his pocketknife and sharpened the quill. Some of his finest writing was done with the pen -- a gift from Nature.

The John Muir commemorative postage stamp first went on sale this morning at the Martinez post office. This is the only post office in the United States where the stamp is available today. Tomorrow, our post offices throughout the Nation will sell the stamp.

Perhaps you will be interested in the behind-the-scenes story of how the stamp came about.

New postage stamps just do not come out of thin air. And it is a rare distinction for a man to be honored with a postage stamp.

Each year the Post Office Department receives about 3,000 letters from people who submit ideas for new postage stamps. But we bring out only 15 new commemorative stamps a year!

Postmaster General Gronouski's responsibility, then, is to approve the issuance of 15 of the most worthy and significant new postage stamps. To aid in this decision, he turns to a Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee.

One member of this committee is a Californian, Roger Kent of San Francisco.

Just a few weeks ago, Mr. Kent and other members of the committee were in Washington for a day-long conference. These committee members are experts in the arts and the printing processes and are highly knowledgeable in American history.

They sift through the many, many requests for new postage stamps and submit their recommendations to Mr. Gronouski for final approval.

Some of these requests for new stamps are -- to put it mildly -- a bit unusual. For example, one man wanted a stamp with a picture of a hamburger on it. Another man wanted his own picture on a stamp.

And there is a request for a stamp honoring Kate Shelley, who, it turns out, on the night of July 6, 1861, flagged down a passenger train and prevented it from plunging into Honey Creek, Iowa.

Many of the new stamp proposals must be rejected because there is not broad national interest in them.

Other proposals must be denied, regretfully, because of the risk of showing favoritism. For example, if a well-known college or university is honored with a postage stamp on the 100th anniversary of its being founded, every school in the nation would feel justified in requesting a similar stamp for similar anniversaries.

Selecting the subject matter for new stamps is far from easy, I assure you.

A proposal for a John Muir stamp was approved by the Citizens' Stamp Advisory Committee and referred to the Postmaster General, who also though this would be a worthy stamp.

The next step was to commission an artist. We made a fortunate choice in Rudolph Wendelin, an artist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

Before he began to make sketches, Mr. Wendelin did extensive research on John Muir. The artwork he produced, I think you will agree, seems to catch the spirit of the great naturalist.

And by the way, the little man on the floor of the forest is also John Muir.

So this is perhaps the first stamp in history that contains two likenesses of the same man.

Artist Wendelin made numerous drawings before the final design was approved.

This meticulous approach is typical in the preparation of our other new postage stamps, too. And I hope that you have been noticing what we consider to be highly attractive designs.

Some of the top artists in the country -- including Norman Rockwell and Stevan Dehanos -- have been creating stamps for us.

The John Fitzgerald Kennedy memorial postage stamp, which will be issued May 29 -- his birthday anniversary -- is the product of a design-team of seven men that worked two months on the project. President Johnson himself has been keenly interested in this stamp and its progress. We feel this highly appropriate stamp reflects a better stamp program -- as well as a better postal service -- under President Johnson's programs for efficiencies and economies. In the Post Office Department, we are achieving this goal despite record mail volumes of more than 70 billion pieces.

New postal programs have been framed to meet new problems. New approaches have made substantial economies possible without reductions in postal service.

As taxpayers, you will be pleased to know that actual cost of operating the postal service is near the break-even point. In his bi-annual report to Congress, Postmaster General Gronouski announced that - in line with the President's programs -- we are able to cut the Postal deficit to $77 million for fiscal 1965.

Five years ago, the deficit was nearly $775 million.

Some of this reduction is due to legislation that permits the Post Office Department to charge off losses from non-postal services it performs, such as handling the sale of U.S. Savings bonds in many post offices.

And, when mail is delivered at below cost for non-profit organizations, our bookkeeping is adjusted to show this.

So some of this reduction is not tangible. But we now have a realistic figure on what it costs to deliver mail, and this figure is not too far off from the money we take in.

The Postmaster General reported to the Congress that important gains in operating efficiency, coupled with higher parcel post rates, are contributing also to this record.

Sale of the John Muir commemorative postage stamp certainly is not going to balance our budget or solve our financial problems. Only careful planning can do that.

But I do hope that the Muir stamp will serve to remind all Americans -- stamp collectors and non-collectors alike -- of this remarkable man and of the many gifts he gave to this Nation.

Thank you for inviting me to be with you today.



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