The History of NWF Stamp Art

In 1934 illustrator and wildlife conservationist Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling became the new chief of the federal Biological Survey, forerunner of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The Original Duck Stamp

Darling was asked to create the artwork for the agency’s new Duck Stamp. This stamp, originally the federal license required for hunting migratory waterfowl, was an early example of hunters and non-hunters united as conservationists by an artist’s work.

Ding Darling resigned from his post with the Biological Survey in November 1935. He wanted to devote his time to a February 1936 National Wildlife Conference where he hoped to establish a new kind of organization. When the conference ended, Darling was named president of the new "General Wildlife Federation." Two years later it was renamed the National Wildlife Federation.

NWF Conservation Stamps

The original 1938 stamp sheet

Enthusiasm for Darling’s vision of a united federation for wildlife quickly encountered a need for funding. One suggestion urged the federation to create stamps depicting wildlife. Darling jumped at the idea and created 16 images for the first sheet of conservation stamps in 1938. The program got off to a rocky start, but became one of NWF’s signature products. By the time the final sheet was issued in 1987, more than 1,000 species had been represented and millions of dollars raised for wildlife.

sea turtle stamp


Wildlife artwork was the tool with which NWF built bridges between wild animals and the people interested in protecting them. It began with stamps, but prints, magazines, books and other products that incorporated wildlife imagery eventually followed.

Today, the National Wildlife Federation continues to unite sportsmen, birders, gardeners, photographers, and all “friends of Outdoor America” with the common purpose of protecting wildlife for our children’s future.


Sea Turtle stamp art by Chuck Ripper

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