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The United States of Swag: Political ephemera from the Kroch vaults.

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Short sleeved dress with IKE all over

Eisenhower dress (1956)

Photos provided

As long as there have been elections, there has been campaign swag—items given or marketed to supporters with the aim of engendering loyalty and spreading name recognition. These days, those products tend to be fairly sedate, like T-shirts and baseball caps. But Cornell’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections houses hundreds of more colorful examples from bygone eras. Kroch Library’s Susan H. Douglas Collection of Political Americana features a trove of partisan goodies—from the typical (boater hats and lapel pins) to the downright odd. In 1948, for example, female supporters of the Dewey and Truman campaigns could sport underpants embroidered with the names of the candidates and their running mates. (As Kroch staffer Heather Furnas, PhD ’14, observes: “Who are you advertising to, exactly?”) There are cartons of cigarettes touting the presidential campaigns of Adlai Stevenson and Dwight Eisenhower; a pair of silver-plated scissors engraved with the likeness of William Howard Taft; a metal “piggy bank” with a slot to insert coins into FDR’s skull.

Bar of soap with Ike's face

Eisenhower soap (1952)

And there is soap—shaped not only in bars, but also in the form of babies, elephants, and donkeys—which Furnas notes is a recurring theme. “It’s about cleaning up politics—the idea that it’s a dirty game, but this particular candidate is an honest, moral person who can make a difference. In fact,” she observes, “I think it’s a little on the nose.”

In September and October, the Kroch rotunda will host an exhibit of campaign-related memorabilia from the past three decades, recently donated by Robert Schultz ’77, MBA ’78.


Photos provided

Stevenson-Kefauver umbrella (1956)

Stevenson-Kefauver umbrella (1956)

FDR clock (1932)

FDR clock (1932)

Coolidge-Dawes thimble (1924)

Coolidge-Dawes thimble (1924)

Elephant soap (1956)

Elephant soap (1956)

Donkey soap (1956)

Donkey soap (1956)

McKinley "soap baby" (1896)

McKinley “soap baby” (1896)

Cookie cutter from the 1956 Republican National Convention

Cookie cutter from the 1956 Republican National Convention

Lincoln ceremonial axe (1860)

Lincoln ceremonial axe (1860)

McKinley-Roosevelt canteen-shaped flask (1900)

McKinley-Roosevelt canteen-shaped flask (1900)

 

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