Buttons to Bumper Stickers: Political Campaign Memorabilia: Campaign Memorabilia Can Help Students Connect Past with Present

By Potter, Lee Ann | Social Education, October 2004 | Go to article overview

Buttons to Bumper Stickers: Political Campaign Memorabilia: Campaign Memorabilia Can Help Students Connect Past with Present


Potter, Lee Ann, Social Education


DURING THE SEASON of political campaigns, scores of bumper stickers, posters, and other items with slogans supporting one candidate or another suddenly appear and quickly multiply around neighborhoods and towns, with stickers plastered on cars, and posters hanging in windows, or posted in front yards. From George Washington to George W. Bush, politicians have used such memorabilia to capture the attention of voters for centuries.

Today, many of these political campaign memorabilia--including the items featured in this issue--are housed in the presidential libraries among millions of documents, photographs, audiovisual materials, and other historical items. Bumper stickers, buttons, and posters dominate the collection, but sunglasses, suspenders, ties, hats, and other curious items serve as reminders of political campaigns from as far back as the 1920s.

Of course, campaign memorabilia existed long before the 1920s. In fact, George Washington and many who were present at his first inauguration in 1789 wore brass clothing buttons that read "G.W.-Long live the President." For the next fifty years, political memorabilia consisted primarily of such buttons and silk ribbons.

Other items began to appear on a wide scale in the 1840 campaign. William Henry Harrison's supporters produced and used hundreds of items in the design of a log cabin. (Though Harrison was born on a Virginia plantation, the son of one of the Declaration of Independence signers, he tried to tie his image with the humble life associated with the log cabin.) Twenty years later, the 1860 campaign was the first in which the candidates' own images appeared on promotional items. And in 1896, the political button that is so familiar today was patented by a manufacturing company and widely used by both William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan.

Today, the production of campaign memorabilia has gone far beyond the original brass clothing buttons and silk ribbons and has progressed to include tee-shirts, knit hats, ball caps, jackets, drink ware, car flags, dog tags, key chains, golf balls, playing cards and much, much more.

Teaching Activities

1. Provide students with examples of political campaign memorabilia featured in this issue and lead a class discussion using the following questions.

a. Who created this material?

b. For what purpose?

c. When was it created? How do you know?

d. Do any of the items contain slogans? Is their meaning clear?

e. Why do you think certain formats, colors, or designs were chosen?

2. Encourage students to create their own campaign item promoting one of this year's candidates. Ask volunteers to share their item with the class and to explain their design choices (i.e., why did they choose a certain color or format?).

3. Share reformation from the background essay, with students about the history of campaign memorabilia. Remind them that campaign memorabilia is just one method used by candidates to promote themselves and their campaigns; speeches. …

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Buttons to Bumper Stickers: Political Campaign Memorabilia: Campaign Memorabilia Can Help Students Connect Past with Present
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