WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN THE U.S. IN 1898?
The transformation of the United States from an agricultural to an increasingly industrialized and urbanized society brought about large economic, political, diplomatic, social, environmental, and cultural changes. Near the turn of the 20th century, the United States became a world power. The Gilded Age (about 1870s – about 1900) was almost over and the Gay Nineties (1890 – 1899) nearly so. Our nation was still in the early days of the Progressive Era (1890s – 1920s).
The late 19th century saw the beginnings of the modern U.S. industrial economy. A national transportation and communication network was created and the corporation became the dominant form of business organization. The 1880s and 1890s were years of unprecedented technological innovation, mass immigration, and intense political partisanship, including disputes over currency, tariffs, political corruption and railroad and business trusts.
The late 19th century saw the advent of new communication technologies, including the phonograph, the telephone, and radio; the rise of mass-circulation newspapers and magazines; the growth of commercialized entertainment; new sports including basketball, bicycling, and football; and the appearance of new transportation technologies such as the automobile, electric trains and trolleys.
- February 12 – The electric car belonging to one Henry Lindfield runs away on a hill in London and hits a tree. He was the world’s first fatality from an auto accident on a public road.
- February 15 – The S.S. Maine explodes and sinks in Havana harbor, Cuba, killing 266 men. Popular opinion blames Spain and helps bring on the Spanish–American War.
- March 28 – After an investigation, the U.S. Navy publicly concludes that the U.S.S. Maine was sunk by a mine, further pushing sentiment towards war.
- April 5 – Annie Oakley promotes the service of women in combat situations with the United States military. She writes a letter to President McKinley “offering the government the services of a company of 50 ‘lady sharpshooters’ who would provide their own arms and ammunition should war break out with Spain.”
- April 25 –The United States declares war on Spain.
- June 1 – The Trans-Mississippi Exposition world’s fair opens in Omaha, Nebraska.
- July 1 – American forces capture the San Juan Heights near Santiago de Cuba. Theodore Roosevelt memorably leads the charge of the Rough Riders.
- July 7 – The United States annexes the Hawaiian Islands.
- November 26 – A 2-day blizzard known as the Portland Gale piles snow in Boston, Massachusetts, and severely impacts the Massachusetts fishing industry and several coastal New England towns.
- December 10 – The Treaty of Paris is signed, ending the Spanish–American War.
THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI INTERNATIONAL EXPOSITION and concurrent INDIAN CONGRESS
The Trans-Mississippi International Exposition of 1898 and the concurrent Indian Congress were held in Omaha, Nebraska from June 1 to November 1, 1898. This world’s fair showcased the developed West from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast. Business and community leaders from the 24 states and territories lying west of the Mississippi River saw the Trans-Mississippi Exposition as a way to revitalize the regional economy and to show that the West had recovered from the financial Panic of 1893. During the four months of the Exposition, more than 2,600,000 people came to view its 4,062 exhibits. The exhibits featured social achievements, economic productivity and community growth of the western region. The Exposition covered about 108 city blocks and 180 acres, featuring a lagoon 2,000 feet long surrounded by 21 classical buildings. The grand buildings of the Exposition no longer exist because most of the structures were built using “staff”, an intentionally temporary material, in order to keep the cost of these immense buildings down.
TheTrans-Mississippi Exposition was a smaller event than the 1893 Columbian Exposition and would be dwarfed by the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition to be held several years later in St. Louis, Missouri. Opening at the time it did – at the end of nearly a decade of depression – the Exposition had wide grassroots support, and crowds were good despite official fears that the Spanish-American War would cut into the response of the public. The 1890s had been hard and difficult times throughout the country but more especially on the Plains. Within the confines of the Exposition, surrounded by beauty and splendor, Trans-Mississippi visitors could forget their worries for awhile. The fantasy of the newly constructed fairgrounds dimmed serious matters by pointing to the future and its promise. A new era seemed already at hand.
Parades, speeches, and music highlighted the Opening Day ceremonies. Orators were flushed with pride in the accomplishments of the West and starry-eyed in their predictions of future greatness. The Trans-Mississippi & International Exposition was first planned as a symbol of progress achieved in only one area of the country, but so vast and so rich was the region that the fair’s first flush of success was heralded as a triumph for the entire country. Of the 45 states in the Union at the time, 28 took part in the Exposition. All 19 states and three territories west of the Mississippi River participated. Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Kansas, Wisconsin, Montana, New York, and Georgia erected private buildings to focus on the special nature of their respective states. Every participating state placed exhibits in the various Exposition buildings in an attempt to impress fair goers with its wealth and natural resources. Musical and art exhibitions contributed to the cultural aspect of the fair, while the Midway offered a refreshing diversion for visitors.
The official rule for Midway amusements was that they should not be permitted to “descend to the low plane of questionable attractions.” Because of this rule, the Midway “maintained unusual popularity to the end.” However, the propriety of a group of girls performing at a concession known as the “Streets of Cairo” was questioned, and Abraham L. Reed, head of the concessions department, took action that forced the girls to moderate their dancing. Fair goers had the opportunity to see several other so-called living ethnological exhibits. An exhibit of the soon-to-be annexed Hawaiian Islands included a colony of natives occupying “primitive huts.” The Hawaiians were said to be wearing costumes and using tools from “when the Islanders were in a savage state.” The Chinese Village, organized by a Chinese-owned trading company from Chicago, secured the transport of more than 200 “artisans” from China to the Exposition. At the conclusion of the Expo, it was discovered that the exhibit had been a front to circumvent immigration law. All of the “artisans” had disappeared from Omaha.
Another historically significant part of the Exposition was the Indian Congress that ran from August 4 through October 31, 1898. This gathering, occurring within a decade of the end of the Indian Wars, was the largest Native American gathering of its kind up to that date. It allowed social and cultural exchange between tribes and educational opportunity for visitors. The photographs of the Indian Congress include up to 500 individuals from 35 tribes including the Apache chief, Geronimo. The original intention of the Exposition organizing committee was to illustrate the daily life, industry and traits of as many tribes as possible. However, once the Congress was open, authorities realized that the average person wanted to see dances, games, races, ceremonials and sham battles. The promoters had erected a 5,000 seat grandstand, and arranged the tribes in reenactments of battles which soon were the main activities of the Indian Congress along with the Ghost Dance.
The Indian camp was located adjacent to the Exposition grounds. According to one contemporary report, the weather “…has been trying in the extreme… Most of the time we have had extreme heat accompanied by dry, hot winds, which rendered camp life anything but pleasant, the conditions being rendered somewhat worse by our location. Following close upon the heated period we have just had a week of cold, heavy rains which made the camp and life in it more disagreeable even than it was during the hot spell.”
Frank A. Rinehart, the Exposition’s official photographer, and his assistant, Adolph Muhr, made photographs of the Native American attendees. Rinehart made several hundred pictures, regarded as one of the most complete, unstaged, realistic collections of Native American portraits in existence. Rinehart and Muhr took many of their photographs in a studio and others in the Indian camp.
Exciting sights and sounds at the Exposition
- August 31 – The organizing committee declared “Cody Day” in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody. Cody brought his “world-famous” Wild West Show back to the Omaha Driving Park where it was formally founded several years earlier.
- October 12 – was “President’s Day” at the Expo and featured a speech by President William McKinley focused on international affairs and the necessity of the U.S. not being isolationist.
- Sherman’s Umbrella, a “stupendous mechanical invention, standing 350 feet high and anchored in a stone foundation 30 feet deep and 75 feet square.” The ribs of this gigantic umbrella were to be 110 feet in length, with 16 cars, each carrying capacity of about 40 riders. The passengers will enjoyed a merry-go-round ride at an elevation of 250 feet. At night the tower was brilliantly lit and could be seen 100 miles away.
- Cyclorama of the Battle of Lookout Mountain, a historically correct reproduction of this famous battle.
- Shooting the Chutes was one of the most healthful, invigorating and joyous amusements of the day. The plant erected at the Exposition was to cost $25,000, and be the largest in existence. It was built in the fashion of a huge toboggan slide, with boats full of passengers rushing down a steep incline and bounding over the water in the lake.
- German, Irish, Chinese, Tyrolean, Moorish and other typical national villages, showing the “true home life, architecture, costumes, etc., of the people represented.”
THE THEME OF THE TRANS-MISSISSIPPI EXPOSITION: THE DEVELOPED WEST
After the War of 1812 much of America’s attention turned to exploration and settlement of its territory to the west, which had been greatly enlarged by the Louisiana Purchase. Families of pioneers swept westward and founded new communities throughout what is now the midwest, and between 1816 – 1821, six new states were admitted to the Union.
A major aspect of the conquest of the west was the removal of the Indians who dwelled there. Under the leadership of President Andrew Jackson, the Indians who remained east of the Mississippi were cruelly and violently driven from their homes and concentrated in reservations in what is now Oklahoma. The U.S. Army crushed any resistance to removal. With the west cleared of this obstacle, westerners focused on developing new methods of transporting their goods to market. The canal and railroad systems, which grew up in the north, facilitated a much larger volume of trade and manufacturing while reducing costs a great deal.
Great cities sprang up throughout the north and northwest, bolstered by the improvement in transportation.The land boom was fed by encouragement from the federal government and the actions of land speculators who bought up large tracts of land in order to sell it in parcels to farmers at exorbitant prices. The farmers did not mind high prices and high interest on loans due to the growing success of American agricultural cash croppers who sometimes neglected subsistence farming in order to focus on marketable commodities. Soon the farmers’ dependence on distant markets caught up with them, however, as the state bank system that had sprung up to support speculation collapsed, dragging agricultural prices and land values down with it. Many western settlers suffered greatly during the Panic of 1819, but most survived and continued the conquest of the West.
After the midwest had been substantially developed, the national focus turned toward the far west. The territory of Texas, controlled by the Spanish, was settled by Americans, who eventually undertook the Texas Rebellion in efforts to win independence. When the United States admitted Texas to the Union in 1845, the Mexican government was outraged, and from 1846 – 1848, the two nations squared off in the Mexican-American War. With a resounding victory, the United States gained control of Texas, New Mexico, and California. The Oregon territory was annexed in 1846 as well, and the U.S. controlled the land all the way to the Pacific Ocean.
As the population of the west soared and the prospects of statehood for western territories appeared clearer and clearer, the nation battled over the future of slavery in the west. This battle was one reason for the Civil War, which slowed the acceleration of expansion. However, the last three decades of the 19th century saw the return of accelerating expansion due to the successful struggle to contain the Plains Indians in reservations and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. By the early 20th century, the organization of the west was completed, and the United States consisted of all 48 contiguous states.
THE 1898 TRANS-MISSISSIPPI EXPOSITION COMMEMORATIVE POSTAGE STAMPS
Besides the 1893 Columbian Issue, the only other U.S. commemorative stamps issued during the 19th century came about when Edward Rosewater, publisher of the Omaha Daily Bee and an organizer of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition and Indian Congress, convinced Postmaster General James A. Gary to issue a set of nine stamps to commemorate the Trans-Mississippi Exposition being held in Omaha to promote development of the midwest and west. The finely engraved stamps depict various scenes of the west and are today highly prized by collectors. As with the Columbian stamps, the Trans-Mississippis had double-width stamp formats to accommodate the beautiful art shown in each vignette. Gary’s announcement of the series prompted protests from stamp collectors, who were still unhappy about the high price of the Columbian Issue of 1893 ($16.34 for the complete set of 16, a princely sum at the time), but the Postmaster was unmoved, saying he decided on the issue “because I wanted to help the people of the west.” The complete set of Trans-Mississippi stamps had a face value of $3.80. The $1 and $2 values never had the sales anticipated. The stamps were released June 17, 1898, more than two weeks after the Exposition opened.
The Trans-Mississippis were received favorably by the general public. They went off sale at the end of the year, and postmasters were directed to return unsold stock, which was then incinerated. Although the numbers printed are known, the numbers returned were not recorded, and so the current numbers of existing stamps are unknown. The stamps, designed by Raymond Ostrander Smith, all have the same shape frame, the numerals of value and “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA” at the top; and “POSTAGE” with a spelled-out value at the bottom up through the 50¢ denomination, the dollar values being in numerals. Ears of wheat and corn appear in odd corners of the frame. Each center design is inscribed with its title.
Surprisingly, the designs of the Trans-Mississippi stamps have no direct connection to the Exposition. Unlike the Columbians, they don’t bear any dates and the illustrations on each stamp bear only the caption of the painting or photograph used, without obvious relationship to the other stamps. All the values from 1¢ to $2 were printed from plates of 100 stamps and were printed on double-line watermarked paper.
The Trans-Mississippi stamps were originally intended to be printed in two colors, the borders in various colors and the vignettes in black. Unfortunately, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing was unable to provide the bi-color stamps in a timely manner because it was now required to produce large numbers of revenue stamps due to the Spanish-American War. It was determined to print the Trans-Mississippi stamps in single colors in order to save labor and press time.
1¢ Stamp: Marquette on the Mississippi
The 1¢ stamp depicts Jacques Marquette, a Jesuit missionary, near the junction of the Mississippi and Arkansas Rivers in 1674. Marquette led a small expedition from Lake Superior into the valley of the Mississippi River, following it downstream to the Arkansas and then returning north. The stamp’s image is based on a painting by William Lamprecht, “Father Marquette and the Indians”. The stamp’s vignette was engraved by G. F. C. Smillie. Used to pay the 1¢ postcard rate, nearly 71 million of these stamps were printed.
2¢ Stamp: Farming in the West
The image on the 2¢ stamp was based on a photograph by John Hamlin, from about 1888 – 89, entitled “Plowing on the Amenia and Sharon Land Company, Amenia, N.D.” The scene, engraved by Marcus W. Baldwin, includes a line of horse-drawn plows on a field of wheat stubble in the background. The team, with 61 horses and extensive machinery, is in the process of going back and forth across an entire section of land (640 acres) on what was known at the time as a “bonanza farm”. Farm worker Ed Nybakken, field boss Elihu Barber, and foreman Sam White are shown in the foreground. A gust of wind snatched Nybakken’s hat just as the picture was taken, covering his face and that is reproduced on this stamp. Interestingly, the 2¢ stamp violates the rule then in force that no living person could be depicted on a U.S. postal issue. The Amenia and Sharon Land Company benefitted greatly from the use of its photograph, which served as an advertisement for the corporation. The company purchased large numbers of the 2¢ stamp and used them for all its correspondence for years afterward.
Engraved by Marcus W. Baldwin, the stamp paid domestic first-class postage. More 2¢ stamps were printed than any other of the Trans-Mississippis: a total of almost 160 million. An unknown number, however, was destroyed when the unsold Trans-Mississippi stamps were incinerated in March, 1899.
4¢ Stamp: Indian Hunting Buffalo
The image on the orange 4¢Trans-Mississippi was taken from an engraving by Captain S. Eastman that appeared in Volume IV of “Information Respecting the History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States” by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, published in Philadelphia in 1854. The original engraving includes another Indian mounted on a horse firing his arrow at a second buffalo, but these figures were removed from the stamp design in favor of the single Indian chasing a buffalo in the foreground. The stamp’s vignette was engraved by G. F. C. Smillie. This stamp covered double the regular first-class rate. Almost 5 million of these stamps were produced. In modern times it is particularly rewarding to find the stamp in bright color, as the orange inks of the late 1800s are prone to oxidation and fading.
5¢ Stamp: Fremont on Rocky Mountains
John Charles Fremont, depicted on the 5¢ stamp planting a flag on a peak in the Rocky Mountains, was one of the most colorful characters in 19th century American history. In addition to his early career as Western explorer, he was a U.S. Senator, territorial governor, Republican Party founder, and Presidential candidate in 1856 (under the slogan, “Free men, Free soil, Fremont”). The original woodcut used for this image has never been found. The stamp’s vignette was engraved by Marcus W. Baldwin. Because 5¢ paid the first-class letter rate to Europe, many 5¢ Trans-Mississippis ended up there. About 7.5 million stamps were printed with an unknown number destroyed after the stamps were recalled in 1899.
8¢ Stamp: Troops Guarding Train
Based on a drawing by Frederic Remington, the violet brown 8¢ Trans-Mississippi depicts a scene highly evocative of the Wild West. As described by Lester G. Brookman in Volume III of his book “The United States Postage Stamps of the Nineteenth Century”, the picture “shows a long train of covered wagons, filled with emigrants and their families, slowly wending their way across the seemingly unending plains. Frequent Indian attacks made constant guarding of the trains a necessity.” The stamp’s vignette was engraved by Robert Ponickau. This stamp was mainly used for covering the fee to send letters by registered mail. Close to 3 million of the 8¢ stamps were produced.
10¢ Stamp: Hardships of Emigration
The 10¢ Trans-Mississippi was based upon an 1892 painting by Augustus Goodyear Heaton, completed while he was living in Oklahoma. The painting was destroyed by fire in 1930. All that survives is this stamp depicting a dying horse in front of a lone covered wagon. As Lester G. Brookman notes in Volume III of “The United States Postage Stamps of the Nineteenth Century”, “Such a scene represented a tense moment in the lives of the emigrants, for loss of a horse under these circumstances was a serious thing.” The vignette was engraved by Marcus W. Baldwin. Ten cents paid a combination of the registered mail fee and first-class postage. Slightly more than 4.5 million of the 10¢ value were printed.
50¢ Stamp: Western Mining Prospector
Based upon a painting called “The Gold Bug” by Frederic Remington, the vignette on the 50¢ Trans-Mississippi was engraved by G. F. C. Smillie. This classic Western scene shows an old prospector searching for gold along a mountain river. It was used as a “make-up” stamp for higher-postage items. About one-half million of these stamps were produced, with an unknown number later destroyed.
$1 Stamp: Western Cattle in Storm
Considered by many collectors to be the finest United States commemorative stamp ever printed, the $1 Trans-Mississippi is also commonly known as the “Black Bull”. While the entire set has been praised for its quality, the $1 value stands out from the rest. Although the cattle pictured on the stamp are certainly representative of the American west, the scene was taken from an engraving by C. O. Murray of a painting by John A. MacWhirter entitled “The Vanguard”, which depicted cattle in the Scottish West Highlands. The vignette was engraved by Marcus W. Baldwin. Highly valued by collectors today, only 56,900 of these stamps were ever printed, an unknown number of which remained in stock after four months of sales and subsequently destroyed by the U.S. Postal Department. Although not terribly popular with collectors at the time it was first issued, the $1 “Western Cattle in Storm” has since received much praise by philatelists. In fact, this stamp consistently places in the top ten of the “100 Greatest American Stamps” surveys and publications.
$2 Stamp: Mississippi River Bridge
Although the Trans-Mississippi Exposition took place in Omaha, the city shown on the most costly of the Trans-Mississippi Exposition Issue stamps is actually St. Louis, and the bridge is the Eads Bridge, completed in 1874. At its completion, the bridge was the longest in the world, at 6,442 feet. The stamp that bears its image, featuring a vignette engraved by Marcus W. Baldwin, is a much-sought-after rarity. Only 56,200 were ever printed, all in a single day’s run on June 3, 1898. Many were destroyed in March, 1899 after they failed to sell. It is estimated that only around 25,000 remain in existence today. The $2 “Mississippi River Bridge” consistently ranks highly in the “100 Greatest American Stamps” surveys and publications.