Political leaders purposefully use print culture to promote political agendas, solidify authority, and fire patriotic emotions. The stamps issued by Mexico after its 1910-1920 revolution offer a compelling example. Among the postage stamps issued for this purpose, Mexico's airmail stamps played a significant role.
- Nature and Technology
- Nature and Technology: Coat of Arms
- Nature and Technology: Railroads
- Nature and Technology: Landscapes
- Nature and Technology: Amelia Earhart's Flight
- Ancient to Contempory Culture
- Ancient to Contemporary Culture: Archeology
- Ancient to Contemporary Culture: Architecture
- Ancient to Contemporary Culture: National Anthem
- Ancient to Contemporary Culture: Fine Arts
- 1968 Olympic Games
- 1968 Olympic Games: Original Art
- 1968 Olympic Games: First Day Cover
- 1968 Olympic Games: Souvenir Sheet
- For Further Reading
Have you ever wondered why a particular image appears on stamps affixed to your mail? Postage stamps, money, posters, and other government documents all feature thoughtfully selected images. People see those images repeatedly throughout the day, and the images inspire pride by shaping the ways people understand national identity and ideology. Political leaders recognize this. They purposefully use print culture to promote political agendas, solidify authority, and fire patriotic emotions. This is particularly evident as revolutionary regimes strive to unite disparate population groups and to win the recognition of foreign nations. The stamps issued by Mexico after its 1910-1920 revolution offer a compelling example.
Though the Mexican Revolution toppled Porfirio Díaz (1830-1915) and produced a constitution, it neither created a national identity nor engendered a unifying ideology. Disparities of belief among population groups and institutions, especially the historically powerful Catholic Church, sparked continued conflict well beyond 1920.
Revolutionary presidents and subsequent regimes used postage stamps to declare the state’s power, to undermine factionalism by emphasizing shared heritage, and to advertise the nation’s technical and athletic competitiveness to citizens and the world. Among the postage stamps issued for this purpose, airmail stamps played a significant role.
Throughout the twentieth century, Mexico issued over six hundred air mail stamps. This virtual exhibit features examples of airmail stamps and mail organized in three categories: Nature and Technology, Ancient to Contemporary Culture, and the 1968 Olympic Games.
Nature and Technology
Mexican airmail stamps carried a progressive national image worldwide. In 1922 Mexico’s first airmail stamps depicted a symbolic eagle soaring through a majestic landscape. Later stamps illustrated transportation and feats of engineering, emphasizing industrial progress, but always in harmony with the countryside.
Eagle Airmail stamps, 1927-28
Mexico’s first airmail stamp design, used here on an envelope flown from Querétaro to Nuevo Laredo, then freighted across the border to connect with a U.S. contract airmail flight, October 1, 1928.
Nature and Technology: Railroads
Map and Railroad Tracks, 1961
This stamp was issued for the opening of the Copper Canyon railroad (officially known as the Chihuahua al Pacifico), which linked Chihuahua to Los Mochis on the Pacific Ocean. The outline map of Mexico superimposed over railroad tracks suggests that the railroad united the country, border to border.
Nature and Technology: Amelia Earhart's Flight
Mexico City to New York City Airmail, 1935
Amelia Earhart flew from Los Angeles to Mexico City in 1935, bringing international attention to Mexico. She then flew solo non-stop from Mexico City to Newark, New Jersey (destination New York City), the first ever to do so. Thirty-five pieces of mail were flown.
Ancient to Contemporary Culture
After the Mexican Revolution, leaders faced a huge challenge: they must teach groups of people who identified themselves as part of a village to begin identifying themselves as part of a nation. Those groups often jealously protected their own linguistic dialects, systems of exchange, customs, and cultural traditions, and they often resisted the intrusion of others.
A national monetary system, a national anthem and flag, a unified system of time, weights and measures, public schools taught in a common language . . . all helped Mexico’s leaders bind many groups into one. Emphasizing shared heritage rather than differences also helped unite sometimes hostile groups.
Images printed on postage stamps subtly but relentlessly reshaped the way people thought about themselves. They carried powerful messages of shared history to dispersed, frequently illiterate communities, reminding them of their shared Mayan and Aztec cultural heritage and collective artistic, musical, and architectural traditions.
1968 Olympic Games
The export of Mexican nationalism via airmail peaked with stamps portraying the 1968 Olympics, the first Olympic Games held in Latin America. In addition to other stamps and souvenir sheets, Mexico issued airmail stamps celebrating the competitions. Artist Lance Wyman of the United States designed the issues.
Under the direction of architect Pedro Ramirez Vázquez, Chair of the Organizing Committee, an interdisciplinary and multicultural team formulated an Olympic design program. Wyman joined the team as director for graphic design after winning an international competition. Melding elements from ancient Mayan hieroglyphics with 1960s op-art and kinetics, the team created motifs that expressed Mexico’s pride as host of the games while promoting the games at home and internationally. They used the bold, fiesta colors associated with Mexican folk culture as a backdrop for the official logo and the many streamlined images and text that appeared on stamps, posters, souvenirs, and official printed material.
Olympic Volleyball, 1968
For Further Reading
Child, Jack. Miniature Messages: The Semiotics and Politics of Latin American Postage Stamps (Durham: Duke University Press, 2008).
Pulver, Dale. Introduction to the Stamps of Mexico (Sidney, Ohio: Linn’s Stamp News, 1992).
Riosa, Marino and Robert J. Wilcsek, “Mexico First Flight Covers, 1917-1939,” American Air Mail Catalogue, A Priced Catalogue and Reference Listing of the Airposts of the World, Sixth Edition, Volume One (Mineola, NY: American Air Mail Society, 1998).
Wyman, Lance. “Olympic Games 1968 Mexico City,” http://olympic-museum.de/design/lancewyman/wyman.htm, January 2009.
Juliet Vargas, for translations into Spanish
John Johnson, Jr.
This online exhibit is an expanded version of the “Mexico Via Airmail” section of the exhibition Mexican Treasures of the Smithsonian: