Earlier this week, as I contemplated the significance of December 7, what immediately came to mind is that “date that will live in infamy,” to quote President Roosevelt: Pearl Harbor. Other things happened on that fateful day, however, that are worth commemorating, though they they have been submerged by the tragedy in Honolulu. Bad news often trumps good news.
In the early 20th century, tuberculosis was a major health concern throughout the world. The tuberculosis sanatorium in Delaware needed $300 to remain open and continue to serve its patients. That amount in 1907 is equivalent to roughly $9,000 in today’s world.
Edith Bissell was the secretary of the Delaware Red Cross and an active member of the American Lung Association. In 1904, a postal clerk by the name of Einar Holboll conceived the idea of people adding an extra stamp to the Christmas mail in order to raise money to help children suffering from tuberculosis. In 1904, Denmark issued the world’s first Christmas Seal. The was The project was immensely successful and by 1911 enough money was raised to fund The Christmas Seal Sanatorium. Other nations in Europe quickly followed. Christmas seals became a permanent project.
Bissell was aware of the success in Denmark and decided to introduce Christmas Seals in the United States. In 1907, she designed America’s first Christmas Seal. It was first made available to the public on December 7th. Because of its newness, however, it was slow to catch on. Bissell then contacted the “North American,” a Philadelphia newspaper that was sympathetic to the cause. The editors ran a series of articles promoting Christmas Seals under the heading, “Stamp out Tuberculosis”. President Theodore Roosevelt gave the project an additional boost by giving his own support. By the end of the year the Christmas Seal project raised over $3,000,ten times what was need to keep the Delaware sanatorium open. Annual Christmas Seals became a permanent event.
No doubt The sale of Christmas Seals have saved many more lives than were lost at Pearl Harbor. We should continue to “remember Pearl Harbor,” but it is nice to associate December 7th with another event that is worthy of commemoration, the day that the first American Christmas Seals was launched.
It is a coincidence, that on that same date, December 7, Canada issued the world’s first Christmas stamp, one that has had special value to stamp collectors. Christmas has a way of inaugurating good things. It is, in fact, the date that is most worthy of both remembering and celebrating.