U.S. Post Office Brings Their ‘Stamp Show’ To Iowa.

As we mentioned earlier, in 1925 – the United States Post Office issued a new commemorative postage stamp set called the Norse-American Issue – celebrating the long and honored Norwegian heritage in this country. These two stamps were issued on May 18, 1925 and two Iowa communities – Algona and Decorah – served amongst the seven cities chosen for First Day Issue ceremonies – marking the very first time a U.S. postage stamp had a first-day release in Iowa.

(C-0216) Back in the day – stamp collecting was a huge hobby. As a matter of fact, President Franklin Roosevelt – elected in 1932 – was an avid stamp collector himself, and he played an integral role in determining what themes would be celebrated by the U.S. Post Office.

With so many Americans collecting stamps, literally thousands of people would travel great distances to buy a newly-released postage stamp in the First Day of Issue city so they could have a postal cover postmarked on that special day. Read more here. Collectors would also look for special themes and collect postal covers not only for specific cities – but also for special dates or events. Here’s a good example from Des Moines in 1932…

402-1932-707-708covers
(C-0129) (C-0130) On July 6, 1932 – the USPS postage rate for a 1-ounce letter rose from 2-cents to 3-cents. One clever stamp collector in Des Moines, Iowa decided to get a postmarked cover of both the last day of the 2-cent rate on July 5 – and the first day of the new 3-cent rate on July 6 and used the 2-cent & 3-cent Washington Bicentennials for his covers. Nice set!

As most U.S. historians know, President Roosevelt developed a good number of social programs in the early-to-mid 1930’s – all in an attempt to break the stronghold of the Great Depression across America. One such program was the NRA – the National Recovery Administration (Act). Being both a stamp collector and a great promoter of programming – Roosevelt immediately ordered a commemorative postage stamp to be released, and amazingly, the new NRA stamp was produced and placed on sale in just thirteen working days!

When the new NRA stamp was first announced in late July 1933, an avid stamp collector in Fairfield, IowaFred Spielman – got excited. According to William J. Peterson’s 1965 article, The NRA Stamp in Nira, here’s Spielman’s immediate response…

Spielman immediately wired the U.S. Postmaster General – James A. Farley – and his First District U.S. Congressman – Edward C. Eicher – suggesting the First Day of Issue for Roosevelt’s new stamp be in Nira, Iowa – only 38 miles from Fairfield! Again, Peterson tells us more…

The town of Nira, located in Lime Creek township in the northern part of Washington County, Iowa, first came into existence as a shipping center when the BCR&N Railroad came through in the late 1870’s. As was customary at the time, when a newly-created town opened a post office, it was the county postmaster’s opportunity to give a name to that community. So, in 1880, Washington County’s postmaster – Col. W.B. Bell – sat at his desk, looking at a picture of his wife. Perhaps it was her birthday, perhaps she had prepared a grand dinner for him that day; anyhow he was feeling a bit sentimental, and the thought came to him, “Why not name it, Nira?” By the turn-of-the-century, Nira had become a flourishing little village with several stores, many fine citizens, a railroad station, and a post office. But, by the 1930’s, in the midst of the Great Depression, Nira had dwindled to only twenty residents – yet it still maintained a post office!
Nira, Iowa is on the Burlington/Cedar Rapids & Northern Railroad Line, just west of Wellman/Kalona and the original Boller homestead.

So, once Spielman’s idea got to President Roosevelt, he absolutely loved it – NRA in Nira. But with such short notice, it was decided to go ahead and release the stamp in Washington D.C. on its planned First Day of Issue date – August 15 – but . . . wait for it!

Nira will host a Second Day of Issue event – two days later on August 17, 1933! Peterson continues the story…

For Postmaster Eli J. Yoder – and the other 19 residents of Nira – shock was setting in!

So, on Thursday, August 17, 1933, over one thousand stamp collectors ascended on the little village of Nira. Many probably came by train – using the Plug Line from Iowa City or the east/west BCR&N direct route called the Muscatine/Montezuma Line. Others, of course, came by automobile, horse, or wagon.

On this 1902 map, you can see the Rock Island line (green) running east and west through Iowa City, and the BCR&N lines (yellow). The Iowa City Plug Line (yellow) ran from Elmira (northeast of Iowa City) to Iowa Junction (south of Hills) where it connected to the BCR&N east/west line called the Muscatine/Montezuma line.

Of course, President Roosevelt got the first Second Day cover from Nira! And in one unique way…

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(C-0131) 1933 – NRA – National Recovery Administration with a Second Day of Issue in Nira, Iowa.

The Des Moines Register & Tribune’s amazing autogiro even made a brief stop for the big party in Nira. Stamp Days like this, you see, were pretty big events back in the day. I attended one in West Branch when the U.S. Post Office issued its Herbert Hoover commemorative stamp in 1965. Click here for more details.

(C-0295) (C-0296) In our collection, we have two rare postal covers signed by Nira’s Postmaster – Eli J. Yoder – both postmarked during the fall of 1933.

Sadly, our little Iowa town of Nira disappeared soon after this big event. Postmaster Eli J. Yoder closed the post office in October of 1936, and today, Nira is just another ghost town of Washington County, Iowa. Long forgotten by most. But now, you know!

We found the cemetery records and 1940 census records for Nira’s postmaster – Eli J. Yoder (1889-1966) and his family – wife Anna Bissey (1886-1980), daughters Orpha May (1916-1979), Catherine Viola (1918-2007), and sons Arnold (pre-1916) and Delmar R. (1921-2005). E.J & Anna are both buried in Bethel Mennonite Church in Washington County, Iowa. We also found Fred Spielman’s gravesite. Fredrick Anderson Spielman (1865-1956) and his wife – Harriet M. Israel (1876-1966) are both buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Fairfield, Iowa. Godspeed!

Look at this colorful postal cover (below) that features Iowa’s other commemorative stamp issued in the 1930’s – the Iowa Territorial Centennial Stamp – issued August 14, 1938 in Des Moines

1938Ottumwacover
(C-0125) A colorful postal cover featuring the Iowa Territorial Centennial and other stamps from the 1930’s – postmarked in Ottumwa, IA.

When it comes to creative stamp collecting, here’s a winner. Chester Beaman of Kokomo, Indiana got really clever with the 1933 NRA stamp. This 17-year old designed and hand-drew a beautiful postal cover, addressed it to himself, and then sent it, first, to the Postmaster in Beaman, Iowa – postmarked Sept. 9, 1933 – and then onto the Postmaster on board the USS Chester – postmarked Sept. 18, 1933 – docked in California. The result? A NRA postal cover addressed to Chester Beaman and postmarked with “Chester” and “Beaman”- clever indeed! Above is a picture of Chester during his senior year (1933) at Kokomo High School. Click here for a full story on Chester, founding officer of the Kokomo H.S. Philatelic Club.

1933-NRACover
(C-0132) – a clever 1933 NRA cover from Indiana.

(P-0352) We’ll close with this colorful penny postcard from 1938 – I’m Steppin’ High ‘N Wide – it offers a creative checklist for those who consider themselves far too busy to write all the details! Note, however, that the card’s author does have time to mention that he is about to take up Hawaiian Music guitar lessons!

Here’s a tip of the old hat to the U.S. Post Office – President Roosevelt – Nira’s Postmaster Eli J. Yoder, Fred Spielman of Fairfield, and many others for some great Hawkeye stamp memories from the 1930’s.


Kudos to the amazing resources below for the many quotes, photographs, etc. used on this page.

The NRA Stamp at Nira, William J. Peterson, The Palimpsest, Issue 46, No 8, 1965, pp 387-394

Ghost Towns of Washington County, Iowa, IAGenWeb.org

Eli J. Yoder & family, 1940 U.S. Census, Washington, Iowa – Ward 3

Fredrick Anderson Spielman, Find-A-Grave

Harriet Mabel Israel Spielman, Find-A-Grave

Eli J. Yoder, Find-A-Grave

Anna Bissey Yoder, Find-A-Grave


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