"May the year 1940 be pointed to by our children as another period when democracy justified its existence as the best instrument of government yet devised by mankind." Pres. Franklin Roosevelt concluded his State of the Union Address (delivered on January 3, 1940) with these words of cautious optimism. Contemporary totalitarian governments — Stalin's communist regime in the USSR and the fascist governments of Germany, Italy, and Japan — dealt in political repression to control their own citizens and military aggression (in the case of the fascist axis) in an attempt to control the world. By fall 1939 Nazi Germany had invaded Poland; and by the time Roosevelt delivered his 1941 State of the Union Address, Germany occupied most of western Europe and had placed England under a state of siege. Fascist Italy under Mussolini had conquered Ethiopia and occupied Albania. And the fascist military government in Japan had instituted its own plans to control China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific.
The threat of world domination would test the will and courage of the United States government, its citizens, and especially the allied nations who were in immediate peril. Within the United States the moral dilemma hearkened back to the American Civil War, the fight for the abolition of slavery, and its horrific personal cost.
When Japan attacked the US naval fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, and the US government was finally forced to declare war, American industry adapted to heightened schedules, manpower, and manufactory needs necessary for the production of war materials. The Post Office Department similarly began ramping up production of war- and victory-related postage stamps. Between September 16, 1940 (first peacetime draft made legal) and the end of World War II on September 2, 1945, the Post Office Department issued close to 52 billion first-class and airmail postage stamps. That translates to approximately 20,000 stamps printed every minute during that period.
During the 1940s African Americans were honored for the first time on postage stamps; Booker T. Washington was the subject of a 1940 stamp and George Washington Carver of a 1948 stamp. More prominent American women were portrayed on postage stamps in the 1940s than during any previous period - Louisa May Alcott (author); Jane Adams (social reformer; first American woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize); Elizabeth Stanton, Carrie Chapman, and Lucretia Mott (advocates of women's rights); Clara Barton (founder of the American Red Cross); Juliette Gordon (founder of the American Girl Scouts); and Moina Michael (founder of the Flanders Fields Memorial Poppy to raise funds for World War I servicemen and women).