Politics on a Pin
August 30, 2008 - January 20, 2009
Political Buttons - Made In America
Campaign buttons are a purely American phenomenon—invented in the United States as a way for citizens to proudly display their independent thought. From the beginning, political buttons have been an expression of individual patriotism. The earliest "campaign" buttons, worn after the election of President George Washington, were clothing buttons embossed with the slogan "Long Live the President, GW."
Celluloid buttons appeared during the 1896 presidential race between William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan. These inexpensive buttons were easily mass-produced by covering a picture of the candidate with clear celluloid plastic, then attaching the assembled product to a pin. With these colorful buttons the public could now express their distinct political affiliation.
During the 1920s the process for making lithograph buttons was invented, allowing images and text to be printed directly onto metal pins. Lithograph buttons were cheaper to produce than celluloid buttons and quickly replaced them. The large quantity, easy availability, and wide range of styles of lithograph buttons allowed a diverse public to convey its opinions clearly.
Printed buttons are a popular way for Americans to express their support for a candidate or idea; the buttons a person wears says something about his or her individuality. As you look these buttons, consider the people who wore them. How is wearing a button a sign of your independence?
The Yakima Valley Museum collections include many political buttons. Elmer Neff collected political buttons. In 2001 his entire collection was donated to the Yakima Valley Museum. All the buttons in this exhibit are from his collection. The buttons displayed in this exhibition document sixty years of presidential elections.
Some of the oldest campaign buttons in the museum collections are examples of the celluloid buttons of the late 1800s and the first lithographed buttons, made in the early 1900s.