Friday, October 5, 2012

Vote for Your Candidate! Historic Bandanas for Campaigns for U.S. President

The presidential election season is entering its final days, and the trappings of campaigning are ubiquitous. It's during this quadrennial event that we look back at what Presidential campaigning was before mass media transformed elections into what they are today, replete with television and radio advertising, talk show appearances, and daily news. Long before bumper stickers, there was the colorful, graphic campaign bandana.

Cleveland and Thurman Political Bandana 1888
Grover Cleveland/Allen Thurman Political Bandana 1888
(click for additional info)

Martha Washington probably was not aware that when she commissioned a souvenir bandana depicting an heroic Commander-in-Chief as a surprise gift for her husband, she launched a kind of “bandana bandwagon” that never seems to run out of steam, even to the present day. That particular bandana, thought to be America’s first, is safely secure in the collection of the New York Historical Society, NYC. Important history was recorded in that unique textile, created by a defiant printer, John Hewson, despite the British ban on textile printing. Cannons, flags, and a salute to Washington as founder and protector of liberty and “independency” encircle a strong leader on horseback in this small cloth square, marking the beginning of America’s love affair with the lowly bandana.

Harrison and Morton Political Bandana 1888
Benjamin Harrison/Levi Morton Political Bandana 1888
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Pre - television politics in America readily embraced the idea of using bandanas as a means of spreading the word to everyone, including the working classes, whose votes were needed to win elections. Portraits of the candidates surrounded by spectacular patriotic displays of flags, eagles, stars, and inspiring legends, such as PROTECTION & PROSPERITY and TARRIFF REFORM were printed on cotton, and some times silk, as textile advertisements.

Wendell Willke Political Bandana 1940
Wendell Willke Political Bandana 1940
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The rage for political bandanas swept the country as an inspiration for songs about the “red bandana”, fashion statements featuring bandanas worn in men’s pockets, the formation of a Bandana Club, and enthusiastic displays of support for political party candidates by fired up delegates, cheering and waving their cloth banners in convention halls.

Campaign Bandana Harrison/Morton 1888
Benjamin Harrison/Levi Morton Campaign Bandana 1888
(click for additional info)
Much of the flavor and fervor of America’s political history has been captured and preserved in these colorful printed cloth squares, documenting important issues of the day, such as fair wages for workers, and even the words and music for a song entitled “We Want Teddy”.
Theodore Roosevelt 1912 Campaign Bandana
Progressive/Roosevelt/1912/Battle Flag
(click for additional info)

The Smithsonian Institute, as well as other museums and private collectors, have recognized the significance of these textiles for providing an exuberant pictorial history of American politics. A number of outstanding examples from their collections are illustrated in Threads of History,(Collins, Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington DC,1979) and The American Bandana,(Weiss, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 1990), and Long May She Wave (Hinrichs & Hirasuna, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, 2001).