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1937 Three-Cent Navy Stamp: David Farragut and David Porter

Brian started collecting stamps as a child. He recommends the hobby as a beautiful way to learn about history and the world.

The United States Post Office issued a series of ten commemorative postage stamps between December 1936 and May 1937 to honor the Navy and the Army.

The Navy series features naval heroes and leaders from the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, and the Spanish-American War, together with the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. The Army stamps honor a similar group of army heroes.

Through their depiction of these Army and Navy heroes, these stamps provide a window into some highlights of America's military history.

The three-cent Navy stamp.

The three-cent Navy stamp.

Three-Cent Navy Stamp

The purple 3¢ Navy stamp features portraits of two naval heroes from the Civil War, Admirals David Farragut and David Porter, who also happened to be adoptive brothers. Under each man's portrait is the name of a ship under his command: Farragut's USS Hartford and Porter's USS Powhatan, respectively. The stamp also depicts a large Navy warship of the era.

This is the third stamp in the five-stamp Navy series, which also includes

The corresponding three-cent purple Army stamp, honoring Union Generals William Tecumseh Sherman, Ulysses S. Grant, and Philip Sheridan, was issued on the same date as the three-cent Navy stamp.

Facts About This Stamp

  • Date and Place Issued: February 18, 1937, in Washington, D.C.
  • Quantity Issued: 93,291,650
  • Designer: Alvin R. Meissner
  • Engravers: L. C. Kauffmann & Carl T. Arlt (vignette), William B. Wells (lettering)
  • Scott Catalog No. 792
Portrait of Admiral David Farragut in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Portrait of Admiral David Farragut in the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Admiral David Farragut (1801–1870)

David Farragut, the adopted son of naval Captain David Porter, was commissioned as a midshipman in 1810 when he was just 9 years old. Serving aboard his adoptive father's ship USS Essex, he fought in the War of 1812, becoming a prize master at the age of 12. He was wounded in battle and captured at Valparaiso Bay, Chile, in 1814.

In the 1820s, Farragut participated in operations against pirates in the West Indies. He held various positions at sea and ashore and rose through the ranks, being promoted to lieutenant in 1822, commander in 1844, and captain in 1855.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, Farragut offered his services to the Union, despite the fact that both he and his wife had been born in the South. In 1862, he was given command of the USS Hartford, flagship of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron. His first task was to take New Orleans from the Confederates—a major part of the Union strategy to split the Confederacy in two by gaining control of the Mississippi River. Farragut captured New Orleans on April 29. Congress rewarded him by creating the rank of Rear Admiral for him.

Admiral David Farragut onboard the USS Hartford

Admiral David Farragut onboard the USS Hartford

Farragut's second great victory of the war occurred in August 1864 at Mobile Bay, the last remaining Confederate port on the Gulf of Mexico. The bay was heavily protected with mines (called "torpedoes" at the time), and one ship from Farragut's fleet was sunk. When the other ships began to retreat, Farragut ordered them to continue the attack. Spurred on by Farragut, the fleet rallied to overcome the squadron led by Confederate Admiral Franklin Buchanan as well as heavy garrisons on shore to capture the port. Farragut's order was famously paraphrased as, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

In December 1864 President Lincoln promoted Farragut as the Navy's Vice Admiral, and in 1866 he was promoted to Admiral, again the first in U.S. naval history. Farragut remained on active duty in the Navy for life—an honor reserved for only a few officers. He died in 1870.

Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter

Rear Admiral David Dixon Porter

Admiral David Porter (1813–1891)

David Dixon Porter was born into a distinguished Navy family. His grandfather had served in the American Revolutionary War and his father had distinguished himself in the War of 1812. The father, Commodore David Porter, resigned from the U.S. Navy in 1824 and accepted an offer from Mexico to command its navy. The commodore took young David and another son with him as midshipmen. In 1828, David was captured in a raid on Spanish ships in the harbor at Mariel, Cuba. He was held in a Havana prison until a prisoner exchange was arranged.

In 1829, Porter was appointed a midshipman in the U.S. Navy. In the peacetime Navy, he served aboard the USS United States and then was assigned to the Coast Survey. He was promoted to lieutenant in 1841, and in 1846 he undertook a private mission on behalf of the State Department to map and assess the new Republic of Santo Domingo. During the Mexican-American War, although there was relatively little naval action, Porter received his first command, as captain of the USS Spitfire.

David Dixon Porter

David Dixon Porter

Porter's first assignment in the Civil War was the command of USS Powhatan in a secret mission to transport reinforcements to Fort Pickens in Florida. In 1862, he was put in command of a mortar fleet to bombard the two forts protecting New Orleans; after Farragut took the city, Porter forced the surrender of the forts.

When the Navy was reorganized later in 1862, Porter was elevated to the rank of Acting Rear Admiral and assigned to command the new Mississippi River Squadron. Porter worked closely with General Grant and his Army in the Siege of Vicksburg, maintaining a blockade of the city. After Vicksburg fell in July 1863, Porter's rank of Rear Admiral was made permanent.

In late 1864, Porter's command was transferred to the North Atlantic Blockading Squadron. Working in cooperation with Major General Alfred H. Terry of the Army, Porter engineered a successful assault on Fort Fisher in North Carolina, which closed the port of Wilmington, the last remaining Atlantic Confederate port. The defeat of Fort Fisher was the last major naval operation of the war.

After the war, Porter was appointed superintendent of the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. He reformed and modernized the Academy, bringing in new faculty, revising the curriculum, instilling discipline, and setting up an honor system. In 1866, when the Navy created the new ranks of Admiral and Vice Admiral, Porter became Vice Admiral as Farragut, his adoptive brother, was named the Navy's first Admiral. After Farragut died, Porter succeeded him as Admiral, but having made numerous enemies throughout the years, his influence declined and he had little say in naval matters for the last twenty years before his death in 1891.

Collect Stamps for a Window into History

You now know a little of the history behind the three-cent Navy commemorative of 1937.

You can get a great introduction to many historical topics, people, and events by collecting postage stamps, especially commemorative issues. The United States Post Office (now the Postal Service) has issued hundreds of commemoratives. Countries throughout the world likewise have issued intriguing commemorative stamps that showcase their history.

Most of these stamps are affordable, even for beginning collectors. If you try stamp collecting, you may get hooked—it's not only educational; it's fun, too!