35¢ Dennis Chavez
Great Americans Series
Issue Date: April 3, 1991
City: Albuquerque, NM
Printed By: Canadian Bank Note Co. for Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Engraved
The first American-born Hispanic senator, Dionisio “Dennis” Chávez was born on April 8, 1888, in Los Chaves, New Mexico.
Chávez’s family had lived in Los Chaves for generations. In fact, he always prided himself in saying he was “American before Plymouth Rock,” because he had ancestors that lived in the New World on a Spanish land grant in the 17th century.
In 1895, Chávez’s father moved the family to Albuquerque for railroad work. Chávez attended school there until the 7th grade when he needed to take a job to help out the family. His first job was driving a grocery wagon at the age of 13. However, Chávez continued to learn by spending his evenings at the Albuquerque Public Library studying engineering as well as American history and politics. Chávez was eventually fired from his job at the grocery store for refusing to deliver groceries to strike breakers.
Meanwhile, Chávez used his new knowledge of engineering to get a job as a surveyor and eventually assistant to the Albuquerque city engineer. Chávez’s work earned him the attention of Senator A.A. Jones, who hired him as a Spanish interpreter in 1916. After Jones won the election, Chávez moved to Washington, D.C. to work on his staff. Jones then encouraged Chávez to attend Georgetown University Law School.
After graduating in 1920, Chávez moved back to Albuquerque where he opened a law practice and joined local politics. Two years later he was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he supported legislation offering free text books to school children. In the 1930 he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. In that role he supported the Elephant Butte Dam and Carlsbad Irrigation Projects, as well as compensation to New Mexico Pueblo Indians.
Chávez joined the Senate in 1935 to fill a vacancy and then easily won election to that office the next year. For the next 27 years, Chávez used his position to promote the development of resources in the West, including water and soil conservation programs, federal crop insurance, and rural electrification. He also introduced several bills aimed at protecting Native American lands and rights.
On the national stage, Chávez supported America’s involvement in NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), helped create America’s Good Neighbor Policy with Latin America, and helped develop the Pan American highway. Chávez also co-sponsored the Fair Employment Practices Commission Bill, which would prohibit discrimination in employment. However, these rights wouldn’t be won until the 1964 Civil Rights Bill that was passed two years after his death.
Chávez died on November 18, 1962, in Washington, D.C. President Lyndon B. Johnson delivered his eulogy, stating that, “Chávez was a man who recognized that there must be champions for the least among us.” In 1966, a statue of Chávez was added to the Capitol building’s Statuary Hall, the only such statue there to honor a New Mexican.
Great Americans Series
On December 27, 1980, the USPS issued the first stamp in the Great Americans Series, which would go on to become the longest-running US definitive series.
The Great Americans Series was created to replace the Americana Series, which had begun in 1975. The new series would be characterized by a standard definitive size, simple design, and monochromatic colors.
This simple design included a portrait, “USA,” the denomination, the person’s name, and in some cases, their occupation or reason for recognition. The first stamp in the new series was issued on December 27, 1980. It honored Sequoyah and was issued in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. The stamp fulfilled the new international postcard rate that would go into effect in January 1981.
The Great Americans Series would honor a wider range of people than the previous Prominent Americans and Liberty Series. While those series mainly honored presidents and politicians, the Great Americans Series featured people from a number of fields and ethnicities. They were all important individuals who were leaders in education, the military, literature, the arts, and human and civil rights. Plus, while the previous series only honored a few women, the Great Americans featured 15 women. This was also the first definitive series to honor Native Americans, with five stamps.
The Bureau of Engraving and Printing (BEP) produced most of the stamps, but private firms printed some. Several stamps saw multiple printings. The result was many different varieties, with tagging being the key to understanding them. Though there were also differences in perforations, gum, paper, and ink color.
The series wasn’t without its own share of controversies. In 1986, the $1 Bernard Revel stamp had a Star of David added to the design without approval. It was discovered that a BEP engraver had added it to the die (between Revel’s beard and mustache) without receiving authorization. This led to an internal investigation of the BEP’s stamp dies from the prior 10 years.
Another controversy surrounded the Dennis Chavez and Earl Warren stamps. While the BEP printed several stamps in the series, private contractors printed many because it was cheaper. The Canadian Bank Note Company, as it turned out, had printed these two stamps. Once the public learned of this, it set off a widespread “Buy American” campaign and the issue was debated in Congress.
All the stamps pictured individuals except for one, which pictured Lila and Dewitt Wallace. Many of the honorees were generally unknown to the public and its believed they were produced to satisfy political agendas. Even still, the series was one of America’s most popular. All the stamps were issued as sheet stamps, plus the Jack London stamp was also issued in a booklet. Additionally, the $5 Bret Harte stamp was the first definitive to be issued in a miniature sheet format.
The final stamp in the series was issued on July 17, 1999, honoring Justin S. Morrill. Spanning 20 years, the Great Americans was the longest-running US definitive series. It was also the largest series of face-different stamps, with a total of 63.
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