1992 Dr. Theodore von Kármán
Von Kármán was the first US Medal of Science recipient
Called the “Architect of the Space Age”
Stamp Category: CommemorativeValue: 29¢, First Class Mail Rate
First Day of Issue: August 31, 1992
First Day City: Washington, DC
Quantity Issued: 142,500,000
Printed by: Stamp Venturers
Printing Method: Photogravure
Format: Printing cylinders of 200 (20 across, 10 down), split into panes of 50 (10 across, 5 down)
Why the stamp was issued: Doctor von Kármán was the founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology. His work paved the way for aerospace technology that led to the US landing on the moon.
About the stamp design: The stamp’s artwork was created by Christopher Calle, who is the artist behind the 2019 First Men on the Moon, 50th Anniversary stamp. He used a photograph of von Kármán from Aerojet General Corporation, which the scientist helped found. Calle used colored pencils, watercolors, and dies in his portrait.
First Day City: The First Day of Issue ceremony took place on the opening day of the World Space Congress in Washington, DC. The themes of the Congress “Discovery, Exploration, and Cooperation.”
Unusual fact about this stamp: Shirley Thomas, a biographer of von Kármán, led the campaign to honor the scientist with a stamp. She began her campaign in 1965, two years after von Kármán’s death. In 1983, she formed the Committee for the Theodore von Karman Postage Stamp and recruited former astronauts, stamp artists, educators, and scientists to write letters to the postmaster general in support of the stamp. The greatest challenge Thomas faced was that von Karman’s name was not well-known outside the scientific community. All her worked paid off, when the announcement was made in 1991 that Dr. von Karman would be honored on a stamp the following year.
History the stamp:
Scientist and mathematician Dr. Theodore von Kármán was born on May 11, 1881, in Budapest, Austria-Hungary.
Kármán studied engineering at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. He then went to Germany and earned his doctorate at the University of Gottingen. After graduating in 1908, he taught there for four years. It was while in Germany that he first saw an airplane and became interested in the physics of flying machines.
Kármán then took a job as director of the Aeronautical Institute at RWTH Aachen University. However, during this time he was called into service by the Austro-Hungarian Army to design an early helicopter during World War I. After the war, Kármán organized the first international conference on mechanics in 1922, leading to the founding of the International Union of Theoretical and Applied Mechanics.
In the 1920s, Kármán was invited to the US by Robert A. Millikan to offer guidance on a wind tunnel at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). After that project was completed, he was invited to remain at Caltech and was offered the directorship of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory there. He later became a US citizen in 1936.
Around this same time, Kármán formed the Aerojet Corporation with graduate student Frank Malina and collaborator Jack Parsons to build JATO (jet-assisted takeoff) rocket motors. They also developed solid and liquid propellants. This work gained the attention of the US Army Air Corps, which offered them grants to work on rocket motors. In 1942, Kármán and other scientists formed the Aerojet Engineering Corporation to build jet engines. Kármán and others at Caltech then formed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to produce weapons systems for the Army. JPL later became a federally funded research and development center under contract with NASA.
After the war, Kármán was made the first chairman of the Scientific Advisory Group, which researched aeronautical advances for the US Army Air Forces. In the years to come, Kármán also helped found the Advisory Group for Aerospace Research and Development (AGARD) for NATO (1951), the International Council of the Aeronautical Sciences (1956), the International Academy of Astronautics (1960), and the Von Kármán Institute for Fluid Dynamics (1956).
Kármán’s work greatly influenced the development of the US aviation industry and pioneered research in aerodynamics that was critical to the US Space Program. His studies on aerodynamics helped the US achieve supersonic flight (flying faster than the speed of sound). Kármán’s contributions include a number of important theories relating to non-elastic buckling, unsteady wakes in circum-cylinder flow, turbulence, airfoils, elasticity, vibration, heat transfer, and more. His name is also tied to several concepts, such as the von Kármán constant (wall turbulence) and the Kármán line (the boundary between the atmosphere and space).
At age 81, von Karman became the recipient of the first National Medal of Science, bestowed upon him by President John F. Kennedy. He was selected for the honor “for his leadership in the science and engineering basic to aeronautics; for his effective teaching and related contributions in many fields of mechanics, for his distinguished counsel to the Armed Services, and for his promoting international cooperation in science and engineering.” He died shortly after on May 6, 1963. Five years later, the Theodore von Kármán Prize was created by the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics. The American Society of Civil Engineers also has a medal named after him and he’s been inducted into the International Air and Space Hall of Fame.