1940 3¢ Charles William Eliot
Famous Americans Series – Educators
Issue Date: March 28, 1940
First City: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Quantity Issued: 51,636,270
Printed by: Bureau of Engraving and Printing
Printing Method: Rotary Press
Perforation: 10 ½ x 11
Color: Bright red violet
Pictured on U.S. #871, Charles Eliot’s tenure at Harvard University saw it transformed into a premiere research institution. Eliot spent two years in Europe studying all aspects of education systems there. He was particularly impressed with the use of research at universities by German businesses.
In 1869, Eliot published an article in “The Atlantic Monthly” called “The New Education.” He wrote, “We are fighting a wilderness, physical and moral. For this fight we must be well trained and armed.” That same year Eliot became the youngest president of Harvard, at age 35. He served as president for 40 years, reforming the university and empowering Harvard’s rise to the forefront of American institutions.
In 1938, the Post Office Department announced plans for a series of stamps recognizing 10 famous Americans and invited the public to submit recommendations. The response was so great that it was decided to increase the number from 10 to 35. This required an unexpected level of organization by the Post Office Department for this series.
Seven categories were decided upon – authors, poets, educators, scientists, composers, artists, and inventors. Each category of five has the same set of denominations – 1¢, 2¢, 3¢, 5¢, and 10¢. Each rate had a valid use. The 1¢ stamp paid for a letter that was dropped off at a post office to someone who had a box at the same office. The 2¢ was for local delivery. The 3¢ paid the normal non-local mail rate, and the 5¢ and 10¢ were used in combination for heavier letters and special rates. The denominations also shared a consistent coloring scheme: 1¢ is bright blue green; 2¢ is rose carmine; 3¢ is bright red violet; 5¢ is ultramarine; and 10¢ is dark brown.
Each category has its subjects arranged with the oldest birth date going on the 1¢ stamp, down to the most recent birth date on the 10¢ stamp. Each category has its own dedicated symbol in the engraving – a scroll, quill pen and inkwell for authors; a winged horse (Pegasus) for poets; the “Lamp of Knowledge” for educators; laurel leaves and the pipes of the Roman god Pan for composers; and inventors had a cogwheel with uplifted wings and a lightning flash to symbolize power, flight, and electricity.
The artists and the scientists have multiple symbols. Artists have either a paint palette and brush (for painters), and the sculptors have a stonecutting hammer and chisel. Scientists had the classical symbol of their particular profession.
Birth Of Charles W. Eliot
Educator Charles William Eliot was born on March 20, 1834, in Boston, Massachusetts.
Eliot came from a prominent family – his father was a politician and his grandfather was a banker. He attended Boston Latin School and Harvard University, graduating in 1853.
Eliot had a great talent for science and had high ambitions, though it would be several years before he could make a name for himself. In 1854, he was made Tutor in Mathematics at Harvard. Four years later, he was promoted to Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Chemistry. In his spare time, he studied ways to reform Harvard’s Lawrence Scientific School. Eliot’s main goal at the time was to get the Rumford Professorship of Chemistry. When he failed to earn that appointment, Eliot left Harvard in 1863.
Rather than start a business to support his family as many of his friends suggested, Eliot took a small amount of borrowed money to go to Europe for two years. His goal was to study the educational systems throughout Europe. One of Eliot’s main goals was to study the role of education in every aspect of the nation’s life.
When he visited schools, Eliot explored every aspect of their operation, from the subjects taught to custodial services. Eliot was particularly interested in the connection between education and economic growth. He noted that in some of these countries, scientific industries were improved by the discoveries made in university laboratories. Eliot also noted that many European universities received government support, while most in America depended on the wealthy.
Eliot returned to the US in 1865 and received an appointment as Professor of Analytical Chemistry as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Around this same time, Harvard made an important change. Up to that time, the state governor and other politicians had run the school. It was decided that they should no longer be on the board and that the school’s leadership should be voted on by the alumni.
In early 1869, Eliot published an article in The Atlantic Monthly called “The New Education.” He wrote, “We are fighting a wilderness, physical and moral. For this fight we must be well trained and armed.” Eliot’s article struck a chord with the businessmen that oversaw the Harvard Corporation, and elected him president of Harvard that same year. At 35 years old, he was the youngest president in the school’s history.
One of Eliot’s revolutionary ideas was that students deserved to explore different areas of study to discover their passions and talents. To this end, he instituted an “elective system” at Harvard that greatly increased the different types of courses made available to students. This would allow them to discover their natural talents and then continue on that path in more specialized courses. Eliot also transformed the way classes operated, shifting them away from reciting readings, to more thorough tests, a new grading system, and more focus on individual performance.
During his years there, Eliot reorganized the school’s faculty into new schools and departments and greatly expanded facilities with new labs, libraries, and classrooms. The changes made at Harvard were soon replicated at other institutions and many high schools changed their curriculum to meet Harvard’s high standards. Eliot was also influential in the creation of standardized admissions exams and helped found the College Entrance Examination Board.
Additionally, Eliot pushed Harvard to become a premier center for scientific and technological research. He served as president for 40 years, longer than any other president in the school’s history. During that time, he reformed the university and empowered Harvard’s rise to the forefront of American institutions.
After retiring in 1909, Eliot remained active in educational circles. He also played a role in the creation of Acadia National Park. Eliot died in Maine on August 22, 1926.