The likeness of William Howard Taft (1857-1930), the twenty-seventh president of the United States, appears on the 50-cent value of the 1938 Presidential Series. The image was taken from a bust sculpted especially for the stamp. Existing busts were rejected for use because they resembled President Grover Cleveland, who appeared on the 22-cent stamp.
Taft, a lawyer and judge, entered civil service at the request of his friend Theodore Roosevelt, under whom he served as secretary of war. It is said that Taft reluctantly accepted the nomination to the presidency because he preferred a position as justice of the Supreme Court, a job he received after retiring after two terms as president (1908-1913).
The 50-cent lavender stamp was printed only as a sheet stamp and was issued on December 8, 1938, the same day as the 30-cent stamp portraying Theodore Roosevelt.
The 50-cent Taft issue saw extensive use in the domestic and foreign mails, and many opportunities for solo usage exist. For example, when the 50-cent stamp was issued, it would have paid the half-ounce airmail rate to the Philippines (in effect April 21, 1937, through June 30, 1946). A few years later, the same 50-cent stamp would have paid the half-ounce airmail rate to West Africa (Gambia, Sierra Leone, Gold Coast, Nigeria, and Liberia, in effect December 2, 1941, through October 31 1946). A 50-cent stamp would have also paid two times the twenty-five-cents-per half-ounce airmail rate to most counties in Africa, Asia, and the Pacific (in effect November 1, 1946, through June 30, 1971).