J. N. "Ding" Darling
is an extraordinary example of an artist at work
in conservation education. His poignant
editorial cartoons awakened the public to the
need to save our dwindling natural resources.
His superb etchings of waterfowl in their
natural surroundings strengthen our resolve to
preserve that habitat.
Design for the First
Federal Duck Stamp~1934
is especially significant to
conservation. After he had guided the funding
for the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act through
Congress, Darling sketched his concept of a
suitable image for the First Federal Duck Stamp.
With its enthusiastic adoption, a remarkable
program of stewardship was born that endures
today, more than a half-century later.
Creating the program
was not an easy task. In 1934, our country
suffered in severe economic depression. Real
needs were many; financial resources were slim
At the same time,
our abundant natural resources were rapidly
disappearing. In an era when hunting still
provided the meat on many tables, it seemed
there were more hunters than ducks.
As chief of the U.S.
Biological Survey, forerunner of today's U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service, Darling devised a
program wherein hunters became stewards of the
wildlife they hunted. Each waterfowl hunter
would have to purchase a Federal Duck Stamp to
affix to his or her hunting license. The revenue
would be used to purchase wetland habitat
critical to the preservation and increase of the
The impact of the
Federal Duck Stamp Program was immediate, and it
has been lasting. As of today, hunter-stewards
have purchased 100 million
Federal Duck Stamps, which have provided over
600 million dollars for the purchase of six
million acres of wetland habitat. Adjusted for
inflation, the amount raised exceeds two billion
philatelic interest in the Federal Duck Stamp
has become significant to sales, offsetting a
general decrease in the number of duck hunters.
Recently, the very first of the 1934 Darling duck
stamps, thoroughly and officially documented as
the first stamp sold, resold at hundreds of
thousands of times its original one-dollar face
In 1984, the United
States Postal Department celebrated the 50th
anniversary of the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp
Act by issuing a commemorative reprint of
Darling's first federal duck stamp. Never before
had the postal department honored a non-postal,
"revenue" stamp in this manner.
The U.S. Postal
Department sold 123,575,000 of these 20-cent
(then first class) stamps. Taken together with
the 635,000 original Darling stamps sold,
Darling's image of a mallard drake and hen
alighting in wetlands surely is among the most
widely published and recognized examples of
wildlife art in the world.
Darling created his
superb wildlife drawings as a diversion from the
intensity of his profession. In these drawings he was able
to express his appreciation of nature in a
medium far different from his editorial
cartooning. Although he has been recognized as
perhaps the most masterful of artists at
depicting birds in flight, he did not sell his
etchings. Only those that met his demanding
standards were given to friends and family.
These few existing etchings are now avidly
sought by collectors for their excellence and
Darling earned his
living drawing daily editorial cartoons that
appeared in more than 100 major
newspapers across the country. In the years
before television—indeed even before radio—he was as widely recognized as today's network
anchors, and his clearly-expressed ideas shaped
the thoughts of the nation. While some of his
cartoons addressed topical subjects like
political personalities, many addressed such
timeless values as hard work and honesty. Still
others dealt with economic or social issues such
as the threat of inflation and, especially, the
need to conserve our country's marvelous natural
The J. N. "Ding"
Darling Foundation proudly operated in the
tradition of its namesake in conservation
education. As all services needed to administer
the Foundation were contributed by our trustees,
nearly 99 cents of each dollar of our income
went directly into ongoing conservation
projects. It is especially appropriate that
proceeds from the sale of many of the Darling
etchings herein portrayed enabled the continuing
work of the J. N. "Ding" Darling Foundation from
1962 to 2006.