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The History of Christmas Seals

It All Began in 1907

In the early 20th century, tuberculosis was the leading cause of death in the U.S. Physicians were experiencing the first signs of success treating tuberculosis in special hospitals called sanitoriums, and one of those facilities had fallen on tough times. The tiny Delaware sanitorium would have to close its doors if $300 could not be raised to save it. One of its doctors explained the plight to his cousin, a volunteer named Emily Bissell. Bissell was a veteran fundraiser, and she soon came up with a plan based on one that had worked in Denmark: She would design and print special holiday seals and sell them at the post office for a penny each.

By the end of her holiday campaign (and after an endorsement by President Roosevelt), she and a large group of committed volunteers had raised ten times the goal and the American Lung Association Christmas Seals® were born.

Expanding Mission

The tradition continued and grew year after year through World War I, The Great Depression and World War II. As the American Lung Association’s mission expanded to include research- into other respiratory diseases, such as lung cancer, more people began to send Christmas Seals®. And as the American Lung Association stepped up to protect children and families from pollution and cigarette smoke in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, America continued its support each year by supporting the Christmas Seals tradition.

A Bigger Battle

Today, the American Lung Association fights a bigger battle than ever before. From important research on lung cancer and asthma to the fights against the dangerous poisons in air pollution and secondhand smoke , the American Lung Association’s crucial mission is still largely supported by Christmas Seals®.

Each year, millions observe the tradition of sealing holiday cards and packages with that year’s special seal. And each year, your Christmas Seals® donation supports the important fight against lung disease being waged every day by the American Lung Association.

Emily Bissel, first designer of holiday seals

Emily Bissell designed the first holiday seal in 1907 and sold them at the post office for a penny each.

Tuberculosis Poster

As the tradition grew, the American Lung Association’s mission to fight tuberculosis expanded to research into other respiratory diseases.


    Page Last Updated: November 20, 2018

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