Georg Olden Breaks the Chain

From the Archives

On the third Monday of every January, the United States celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, honoring the famed civil rights leader and his legacy.

But while Dr. King is cherished as a champion in the struggle for racial equality, others also have their place in the history books for their own small contributions. One such individual is legendary graphic designer and ad executive Georg Olden.

Georg has many industry accolades to his name, and is also noted for being the very first African-American member of ADC. And it was in ADC’s vast historical archive that we discovered this interesting — and amusing — article about Georg’s designing of a US postage stamp commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

It occurred to us the other day that an article about a U.S. postage stamp which was designed by ADC Member Georg Olden recently might be a good idea. We thought that many people would be interested in knowing the inside story behind such a rare and fascinating assignment, so we contacted Georg, who is a Vice-President at McCann-Erickson – when he’s not busy designing stamps – to let us in on some of the exciting behind the scenes facts regarding the assignment.

“Well, there’s not much to tell,” he began, “the whole thing was quite uneventful. I was just approached by a member of the President’s Stamp Advisory Commission who simply said that, ‘somebody up there’ or down in Washington likes you and we would appreciate it very much if you will consent to design a stamp commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.

‘Bless my soul,’ I replied, ‘how time flies, it seems like only yesterday. Well – no matter I accept.’ I shook hands with the gentleman and went back to my office. Within 15 minutes I had gotten the idea and made a sketch. I started to call him and tell him so, but decided to wait a week or two so that he wouldn’t think it’s so easy.

So after a couple of weeks, I called him and showed him the sketch. He liked it but wanted to know where the others were. I told him there were no others. He fainted. He regained his composure after a few minutes and said that the swoon he just came out of was nothing compared with what Postmaster General Day would experience when he finds out there is one sketch and one only.

He asked me if I would do a comp and he would brace himself and take it to Washington. I did better than that – I made a finish and he was off to Washington. Well to make a long story short, they all fainted as predicted when confronted with a single idea – and a finish at that – but anyway they bought it, and ran 160 million of them.”

“Is there anything else you can remember that our readers might be interested in,” we asked Olden.

“That’s about all I remember, except that when I got a call from some guy in the archives (all commemorative stamps designs are considered Historical documents and all materials connected with them are kept in the archives at Washington) asking me to send him all the roughs and comps and sketches on all ideas out of which the stamp evolved, I simply told him that there weren’t any – just the one rough and one finished piece of art – he conked out on me too, so I hung up rather than wait until he came to. Then later I was very flattered when a columnist in the San Francisco Chronicle said, quote: ‘The Post Office in its release makes mention of the fact that Mr. Olden’s is the first stamp ever designed by a Negro. “Well, I think the Post Office is too modest in its claims. Mr. Olden’s stamp is the first U.S. postage stamp ever designed.”

“Well, that’s an interesting story,” we exclaimed, “Mr. Olden is there anything else you can think of that might be of some interest to our readers?”

“Well maybe – there’s one other thing – I met the President,” he replied.Georg-Olden-June1966