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A Brief History of Political Campaign Buttons

One of the most prevalent items in every campaign manager's toolbox is the campaign button. For building awareness, establishing brand, staying top of mind, and encouraging word-of-mouth promotion, among many other uses, the campaign button is a widely used tool by anyone running for any office. Campaign buttons are inexpensive to make, as all you need is a circle cutter plus a button machine and some button making supplies. They are also easy to distribute and require very little effort from supporters to use. It is no wonder then that since Abe Lincoln first used them in 1860, the stature and ubiquity of campaign buttons has only grown. In this post, we provide a brief history of political campaign buttons, along with some examples. Lincoln was the first to use campaign buttons to promote he and running mate Hannibal Hamlin. Lincoln and his opponents, who also made buttons, created them using the "tintype" or "ferrotype" photo process. Here is a picture of Lincoln's button from 1860:

abe-lincoln-campaign-buttonImage Source: Political Campaign Buttons

According to this article about the history of buttons, Lincoln was the first president to use buttons strategically as a campaign tool, but even George Washington was wearing some kind of button while in office.

The mass production of campaign buttons started with William McKinley's campaign in 1896 and gained prominence in 1940 when Wendell Willkie's campaign began producing buttons rapidly and in bulk to respond to things said by and about Franklin Roosevelt.

Interestingly, the buttons used by McKinley and Willkie were produced similarly to how campaigns buttons are made today. As we saw during the '08 election, campaign buttons can help to solidify an iconic image that ends up representing a historic election.


Image Source: Portland Pins

Interestingly, the life and relevance of a campaign button does not end with the declaration of an election winner. Quite the contrary in fact. Many people collect campaign buttons, just as people collect coins or baseball cards.

And like any other collector's item, the more famous (or infamous) the campaign button, and the more scarce, the higher the value. Sites like facilitate the collecting of campaign buttons.

For example, buttons such as these, which picture iconic presidents during one of more unique and influential eras in our country's history, can become quite valuable as collector's items.


Additional Links: Brighid Brown - Director of Blogging and All Things Cool at ABM

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