four years, ordinary objects are transformed into political statements that
bring Presidential campaigns into Americans’ homes and lives. Explore interesting and unusual examples from
The Henry Ford’s collections.
This colorful sewing box, topped by a padded velvet pincushion, is an early example of a Presidential campaign item intended for home use. John Quincy Adams’ portrait appears on the inside lid.
Presidential candidate William Henry Harrison is flanked on this copper lustre pitcher by flags that reference his military heroics in the Battle of Tippecanoe (1811) and the Battle of the Thames (1813).
Opponents made fun of 67-year-old William Henry Harrison, accusing him of retiring to his log cabin to drink hard cider. Harrison capitalized on these symbols of the frontier to seem a simple, ordinary man of the people—although he was actually an aristocratic Virginian who lived in a stately brick home.
An inexpensive process for producing tintype photographs gave political candidates a powerful new weapon for campaigning—as seen by this 1860 Lincoln campaign button, modified for use as a medal or pendant.
An enthusiastic Grant supporter would have worn this cape around his shoulders as he marched military-style with his unit of like supporters in a nighttime torchlight parade through town. The oilcloth surface protected him from hot, dripping torch oil.
Before the invention of pinback political campaign buttons in the 1890s, loyal supporters of Presidential candidates might wear clothing buttons like this.
Before electricity, kerosene lamps were the popular lighting devices for tabletops and office desks. Candidate Benjamin Harrison’s face would have shone brightly through the glass of this lamp chimney when the kerosene lamp it was set upon was burning.
The Monarch Soap Company of Lancaster, Pennsylvania—the creators of this novel giveaway—gave equal time to McKinley’s opponent, producing the same giveaway with a different label in support of William Jennings Bryan.
The Sprague Umbrella Company, the makers of this printed cotton campaign umbrella, produced wagon umbrellas and lawn canopies in addition to advertising novelties. They made a similar campaign umbrella for Bryan’s opponent, William McKinley.
The aluminum ashtray (left) and glass office-desk paperweight (right) were both intended for use in male-dominated places where politics were a frequent topic.
This small tin tray—likely used in a restaurant or saloon—visually connected 1908 candidate Taft with all other Presidential candidates before him from the venerable and long-established Republican Party (also known as the G.O.P. or Grand Old Party), which dated back to 1856.
By 1912, Teddy Roosevelt had become such a legend that symbols alone—like those on this bandanna—evoked meaning for his supporters: his be-spectacled image, his initials printed as a Western-style cattle brand, and his “Rough Rider” hat in the center symbolizing the phrase he coined for the 1912 Presidential election, “throwing his hat in the ring.” Supporters would have waved these bandannas at Roosevelt speeches and rallies.
As automobiles became a ubiquitous part of the American landscape, it was inevitable that Presidential campaign items would begin to show up on cars—like this hood ornament supporting the reelection of President Coolidge in 1924.
In contrast to today, cigarette smoking in the 1950s was not only socially acceptable but it was also considered the ultimate in glamour and sophistication. “I Like Ike” cigarette packages were similarly produced for supporters of Stevenson’s opponent.
For his reelection campaign, President Eisenhower’s love of golf and use of golf courses as places of business resulted in the creation of this clever package for golf tees.
This early Kennedy bumper sticker speaks to the emergence of what would become a mass phenomenon—expressing one’s political opinion through the medium of the car bumper sticker.
Presidential candidates often emphasized past military experience to gain support, as with this PT 109 campaign tie clasp which references Kennedy’s heroic efforts to save his crew after the sinking of this World War II-era naval ship.
Cigar-smoking was a symbol of a man’s power, good fortune, and success. This bubblegum cigar also humorously references the long history of Presidential cigar-smoking dating back to James Madison.
Jimmy Carter’s 1976 Presidential campaign produced many whimsical novelties that referenced his management of the family peanut farm while also celebrating his rural roots. Capitalizing on his big toothy smile, one of Carter’s campaign slogans that year was, “The Grin will Win.”
George W. Bush was a big fan of bottled water as was the rest of the American public in 2000. So it only made sense to merchandise a Bush water bottle to hand out at rallies during that year’s campaign.
The expanding number of Presidential campaign items produced for gift shops and Internet sales gave rise to highly collectible campaign merchandise, like this satirical Bush Bobblehead for the 2000 campaign.
This satirical deck of cards included Kerry’s Democratic supporters, while depicting Republicans George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as jokers. A pro-Bush deck did the same for Kerry.
This 2008 carton of Jones Pure Cane Soda attempted to appeal to supporters of both Presidential candidates with tongue-in-cheek advertising for Pure McCain Cola on one side and Yes We Can [Obama] Cola on the other.
As Presidential campaign items came to be routinely sold online, their scope broadened tremendously to include lifestyle options that matched those of the candidates. In 2012, this included polo-shirt wearing like Mitt Romney (left) and dog-owning like President Obama (right).
From The Henry Ford Archive of American Innovation™.
To see more artifacts related to presidential campaigns, visit The Henry Ford's Digital Collections.