Campaign Buttons: Historical Background

Political buttons originate with George Washington. At his inauguration, Washington and his supporters wore a brass clothing button that said "G.W.-Long Live the President." When the ferrotype and tintype were invented, pictures could be used. These were surrounded by a metal frame with a hole punched in the top so a ribbon could be attached. These were worn on lapels.

The first buttons that were used extensively for campaigning appeared in the 1896 presidential campaign between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan. They were made by placing a thin piece of celluloid protective covering over paper and then wrapping it around a metal disk. Many colorful designs were created during the golden age (1896 - 1916) of campaign buttons.

For the past 100 years, slogans, pictures, and names have been used to promote candidates and causes. While buttons are still produced, disposable stick-on badges are often used at rallies and political events, since they can be made cheaply and in large quantities.

The following items are the courtesy of the Ohio Historical Society and the Macy Hallock collections.

Updated February 22, 2009
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