"Duck" stamps have become increasingly popular with stamp collectors, and 1984 marks the 50th anniversary of the of the Act's passage. This issue features the design from the first duck stamp, issued in 1934.
Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act
On March 16, 1934, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, creating America’s popular Duck Stamps.
Overshooting and a severe drought led to a rapid decrease in migratory birds in the early 1900s. The loss of nesting grounds in the north, resting areas along the migratory path, and wintering places in the south all contributed to the decline in migratory bird population.
President Herbert Hoover signed the Migratory Bird Conservation Act in 1929. This created a commission to evaluate the establishment of new waterfowl refuges, but didn’t grant funds to buy and preserve these wetlands.
Famous cartoonist and conservationist Jay N. Darling soon grew concerned over the decreased bird habitats and potential extinction of several species. He began to incorporate the ideas of wildlife conservation into some of his cartoons. He soon gained attention for the cause and was made Chief of the Biological Service – a forerunner to the Fish and Wildlife Service. In this role he developed the idea of issuing Duck Stamps to raise money for the purchase of wetlands.
Darling then petitioned Congress to create legislation authorizing the creation of these stamps to fund waterfowl protection. As a result, they pass the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act, which President Franklin Roosevelt signed into law on March 16, 1934.
The act authorized the issuance of an annual stamp which outdoorsmen age 16 and up were required to have in order to hunt migratory birds. The funds raised by the sale of these “Duck” stamps were then placed in the Migratory Bird Conservation Fund.
As an artist and driving force behind their creation, Darling took it upon himself to design the first stamp – a $1.00 issue that pictured two mallards preparing to land. The stamp went into effect on July 1, 1934. That first year alone, sales of the stamp raised $635,000 for wetland conservation.
The beauty and novelty of this new stamp immediately appealed to stamp collectors, and the desire to own one became widespread. The government was unyielding, however. The stamp was for hunters only, not for collectors. It had to be attached to a license, and the hunter had to keep it intact for one year. But the collectors would not give up, and fifteen days before the first stamps expired, they were placed on sale for stamp enthusiasts.
For the next several years, the artwork for duck stamps was commissioned. But that changed in 1949, when designer Bob Hines (creator of the 1946-47 issue) suggested the idea for a contest, which has proven quite popular.
When originally purchased, ninety-eight cents of each dollar spent on the license went to wetland conservation. Since the program’s start, nearly $1 billion has been used to purchase or lease almost 6 million acres of waterfowl habitat. This land is now protected through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System. These areas benefit migrating waterfowl such as geese and ducks, but mammals, fish, reptiles, and amphibians living in the wetlands also flourish because of this program.
Bird hunters are not the only ones who purchase Duck Stamps. Bird watchers and other nature lovers gain free annual admission to the refuges when they buy a stamp from a sporting goods store or the post office. Conservationists know that a large portion of the purchase price goes to investing in America’s wetlands. Collectors buy these stamps because of the high-quality artwork pictured.