First Design

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Four Chaplains Commemorative U.S. Postage Stamp
The Original First Stamp Design
This is the history of the design of the U.S. postage stamp, the Four Chaplains stamp as told to me by my father, Louis Schwimmer, the original designer. More recently, this history has been supplemented with information and references generously provided by James Patterson, Chairman of the Essay-Proof Committee, United States Stamp Society.

The Four Chaplains stamp commemorates an act of bravery during World War II which stands today as a foremost example of interfaith courage and bravery in action in the United. States. 

Note: The stamp design at left, and in full screen size was the original stamp design by Louis Schwimmer.  The stamp as issued by the United States Post Office Department (see below) modifies Schwimmer's first design.

The four chaplains story in brief is this:, four American chaplains of different faiths, Protestant, Jewish, and Catholic, each gave away their life preservers and their chances for survival when their ship, the USS Dorchester was mortally struck. The four chaplains went down together with the ship. See Four Chaplains links for additional information.

Much has been written and done to commemorate this extraordinary event in US and religious history. A number of Internet web sites have more information about these remarkable men, about the story, and about efforts that have been made to perpetuate their memory, and honor their example.

The issuance of the stamp was unique because it was issued less than than ten years after the men died.  Customarily,  the Post Office Department (now the U. S. Postal Service) did not issue commemorative stamps until ten years after the person had died.

This is the story,  as I know it, of the U.S. postage stamp that my father, Louis Schwimmer,  designed to commemorate the event. 

My father was the head of the Art Department of the New York City branch of the U.S. Post Office Department.   He was assigned to create and man this department beginning during the 1930's when the New York City Postmaster, Albert Goldman, discovered he had a talented artist in his midst. 

Postmaster Goldman recognized the value of promotional activities  and publicity.  My father's ability to create everything from postage stamps, cachet designs, morale-building massive display campaigns, posters, even calligraphic proclamations  served the concerns of promoting the work of the New York City Post Office for a period of over twenty years from the mid 1930's until my Dad retired in the mid 1950's 

In 1947 or 1948, Goldman was approached about designing a stamp to commemorate the chaplains.  My father assumed the organization originating the concept was the National Conference  of Christian and Jews.

It was in fact a different interfaith organization. An account by the originator of the concept, Claire A. Wolff, appears in an article by Sol Glass, writing in Bureau Specialist, September 1948, Vol. XIX, No. 9 and is excerpted here.. Following Miss Wolff's letter, Glass' article continues: "According to Postmaster Goldman's office no individual artist can be given credit for the original drawing of this stamp. The drawing of this stamp was submitted by Postmaster Goldman to Mr. Geist's committee and then transmitted to the Post Office Department in Washington" This is inaccurate. In fact, Goldman gave the assignment only to my father and submitted my father's finished work directly to the committee and to Washington.

My father was a practicing Orthodox Jew.  Although it was part of his job description to create this stamp, my father took great pleasure in the opportunity to commemorate a fellow Jew.  Historically, this may be the first stamp commemorating a Jew.  It is undoubtedly, the first US postage stamp designed by a Jew that  commemorates a Jew.

The design process was as follows:  My father's created the original design as a  pen and India ink hand drawing.  The original measured approximately 7" high by 12" wide including the stamps serrated edge frame.   Still in New York, a different department of the New York City Post Office created a lithograph plate from the pen and ink drawing and lithographed the design.  A llithographed copy was given to my father, (see above and full size replica)  The plate and the lithograph was sent off to the Washington, DC headquarters of the US Post Office Department which generally issued new stamps.

The original design was subsequently revised.  According to The Essay Proof Journal, of January 1950, Vol. 7, No.1, Whole No. 25, Section 1, there were three designs revised from the original. The final design  is closest to the original design and maintains Schwimmer's concept but still introduces a number of changes. 

Compare the two Versions
First Version
Final Version
The changes: 
  • The ship was changed to look like the historically correct ocean liner and not a battleship
  • The portraits of the chaplains shows the four men as young men in their twenties, my father's depicted older men who looked like they were in their fifties.  The chaplains actually ranged from mid thirties to mid-forties when they died.
  • Parts of my father's text were omitted:
      • the three faiths, "Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish"
      • the statement, "Died to save men of all faiths
  • Font changes and text placement.
About the changes: 
  • Schwimmer generally worked from photographs for historical accuracy.  Here, his portraits of the men and ship are not historically correct.  I assume he was not provided with photograhs. 
  • No photo-reduction was performed in New York which would have shown sans serif fonts clearer than serif fonts.
  • Was it a socio-political decision to not list the specific faiths of the four chaplains or emphasize the point of "all faiths"? 
My father being rather modest, some might say oblivious, never noticed his design had been changed in the final stamp issued.  In the mid 1990's, nearly 40 years after the stamp was issued, my cousin, Murray Schwimmer, an artist in his own right, and very proud of his uncle's work, had collected the stamp and an article about the four chaplains.  When the three of us looked close, we first noticed the changes. 

The signature on the lithograph dates from sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's.  Dad was in his late 80's or early 90's, when we finally persuaded him to sign some of his work.  The replica full screeen version of the lithograph includes his signature which postdates the creation of the lithograph by roughly forty years.

E-Mail: stamp@schwimmer.com


1. Sol Glass, "Four Chaplains Commemorative Stamp," Bureau Specialist,  Vol. 19, No. 9, (September 1948), pp.210-211, 224.

2. Sol Glass, United States Postage Stamps, 1945-1952,  West Somerille, Massachusetts; Bureau Issues Association. 1954, pp. 81-83. The approved and rejected designs were also shown by Glass in his long-running series in The Essay-Proof Journal, "U.S.  Century Essay Designs, Models and Proofs," Vol. 7. No. 1 (January, 1950,) pp. 29-34 at 31.

3. Albert Goldman, The New York, N.Y. Post Office During the War Years 1941 - 1945, New York. Judicial Printing Co., Inc. (1949) pp. 281- 287.

4. James Patterson, "Design Attribution for the 1948 'Four Chaplains' Commemorative Stamp","The United States Specialist, Vol. 74, No. 5, (May 2003), pp. 207 - 213.