Christmas Seals and Classic Hollywood Stars

I try my best to be charitable all the year, but am most successful during this time when the needy and the sad come to mind often. With those thoughts in mind, I decided to dedicate this post to something charitable with a tinge of classic Hollywood and settled on Christmas Seals as my Christmas post.

Christmas Seals have been around for well over a century. The seals were created to help fight Tuberculosis (TB), a leading cause of death in the U.S. in the early part of the 20th Century.  TB struck the rich, the poor, the young, and the old with equal vigor and it was the most feared disease of its time.

Determined to battle TB, a group of doctors and concerned citizens formed the first voluntary health agency in America in 1904, the National Association for the Study and Prevention of Tuberculosis (NASPT), later to become the American Lung Association.  The first signs of success in treating TB were seen in sanatoriums, which became central to fighting TB in its early days with special attention given to patients who needed long-term care. One of these sanatoriums, a small Delaware facility, fell on hard times and would have to close its doors if $300 could not be raised to save it. Enter Emily Bissell, the cousin of one of the physicians in Delaware. Ms. Bissell knew about fundraising and soon came up with a plan to design and print holiday seals and sell them at the post office for a penny each. Christmas Seals were born. The year was 1907.

Emily Bissell kicks off first Christmas Seal campaign by buying the first seal from the stand (Smithsonian)

Emily Bissell’s first Christmas Seals campaign got off to a slow start, but an endorsement by President Teddy Roosevelt and a feature in the Philadelphia North American newspaper changed matters. Soon after, Bissell and a large group of volunteers were able to raise ten times their goal. For her work in this pioneering effort, Emily Bissell was honored with a stamp in 1980.


Vintage Christmas Seals

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Through the years many famous faces, including presidents like Calvin Coolidge, Woodrow Wilson, and Franklin Roosevelt, have embraced and supported the Christmas Seals campaign. The results have funded medical research, helped produce large-scale public health education campaigns, and provided TB screenings. By the 1950s, TB was largely controlled in the United States. Death rates in 1954 were minuscule compared to what they had been in 1904 when the organization was founded.

President FDR with young Christmas Seals models in 1940

Of course, when celebrities were needed to stand up to TB and support the efforts of Christmas Seals they stepped up. They attended fund raisers and exhibits and hosted events as time allowed. Here are a few images supporting those efforts…

Radio shows, such as the aptly titled “Christmas Seals Show” featured familiar radio voices as well as Hollywood’s top stars. Even Emily Bissell made an appearance to promote the sale of seals.

I could not get my hands on any of the “Christmas Seals Show” episodes to share, but I found several public service announcements made by top Hollywood stars in honor of Christmas Seals. It’s not surprising that these are my favorite, as you’ll see top talent step off the movie spotlight for this cause.

Bob Hope (1944)


Abbott and Costello and Charles Laughton


Walter Brennan


Frank Sinatra


Virginia Mayo


John Wayne (1955)


Clark Gable


Gary Cooper


Jack Lemmon


James Cagney


James Garner


James Coburn


Jack Webb


Barbara Eden


The American Lung Association remains the leading organization working to save lives by improving lung health and preventing lung disease. You can make a donation on its site, or, as in days of old, purchase Christmas Seals.

I leave you with wishes from some of the famous faces of 1938 and join them in wishing you and yours a Merry Christmas and a new year full of love, joy, and movies!


3 thoughts

  1. The charm of the designs, the generosity of spirit on display, and the important work begun by Emily Bissell fills my heart with Christmas cheer and a reminder of how little it takes for us to contribute to great causes.

    A very Merry Christmas to you and those you hold dear.

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