Pennsylvania Political Ephemera Through the Years

See more political ephemera that documents more than 200 years of state and national politics here: Krasik Collection of Pennsylvania & Presidential Political Memorabilia.

In national election years, we see campaign materials – bumper stickers, t-shirts, baseball hats, and buttons – being used to promote candidates’ names and political platforms.

Campaign and political ephemera has a long and fascinating history in American politics, which is reflected in the recently donated Elaine B. and Carl Krasik Collection of Pennsylvania and Presidential Political Memorabilia. This extraordinary collection of more than 4,000 pieces of political material – including papers and books housed in the Detre Library & Archives, fabric ribbons, badges, celluloid buttons, and posters from various elections, campaigns, political parties, and events – illuminates the story of both Pennsylvania and national political history.

Sen. Matthew S. Quay lapel pin | 2015.22.632 | Heinz History Center Collections
A wealthy supporter may have worn this mother-of-pearl lapel pin depicting Sen. Matthew S. Quay. This piece likely dates to the mid- to late- 1890s. Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.632. Photo by Carrie Hadley.

Materials in the collection date from the late 18th century through the 2014 Pennsylvania gubernatorial election. The majority of the collection focuses on Pennsylvania state politics – gubernatorial, senatorial, state supreme court, and general assembly campaigns; political clubs for politicians or parties; and political events. The collection also contains pieces from the campaigns of many U.S. presidents, including William Henry Harrison, Martin Van Buren, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, and Barack Obama.

The 1,000 artifacts cataloged to date demonstrate that Pennsylvanians of the 19th and early 20th centuries were not shy about their politics and showed their support loudly, proudly, and in style. Worn to nominating conventions and campaign events, on voting day, and to inaugurations, campaign pieces such as simple fabric ribbons of the mid-19th century included the names of the candidates, campaign issues, and sometimes an image of the candidate or political party symbol. Metal tokens, often decorated in a similar fashion, could be slipped in a pocket as a quick reminder of party allegiance or worn proudly attached to a pin or ribbon.

Randall Club Pittsburgh | 2015.22.110 | Heinz History Center Collections
<em>Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.110. Photo by Carrie Hadley.</em>
John O. Sheatz campaign button | 2015.22.927 | Heinz History Center Collections
This colorful and detailed button was used for John O. Sheatz’s campaign for Pennsylvania state treasurer around 1907. <em>Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.927. Photo by Carrie Hadley.</em>
President Roosevelt photograph on badge 2015.22.410 | Heinz History Center Collections
Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.410. Photo by Carrie Hadley.

As the 19th century progressed, ribbons and badges began to include bright colors, attractive fonts, flashy gold-tone ink, photographs, shiny metals, tassels – anything to catch the eye. In the mid-1890s, celluloid buttons were developed, quickly becoming an easy and affordable campaign tool.  The Krasik Collection documents the various ways these buttons were used to market candidates with catchy, short slogans, photographs, and colorful designs. Popular novelty advertising producers are also featured in the collection, including Whitehead & Hoag Co. of Newark, N.J.; Bastian Brothers Co. of Rochester, N.Y.; and J. H. Shaw Co. of Philadelphia, Pa.

The Krasik Collection provides an intriguing look at a variety of perspectives in the world of politics. Many pieces demonstrate how Pennsylvania state politics often dovetailed with national politics. For example, a ribbon for President Martin Van Buren’s 1840 campaign “name drops” a popular Pennsylvania governor of the time, possibly to increase his own popularity throughout the state. Another badge shows that President Theodore Roosevelt attended the dedication of the new Pennsylvania State Capitol building in 1906 just weeks before the gubernatorial election, perhaps with this election in mind.  Impressively, the collection includes pieces from multiple political parties in almost every campaign, which offers valuable insight into political issues and arguments of the elections and leads to greater understanding of the political atmosphere of the time. The many cities, counties, and towns represented throughout the collection highlight its comprehensiveness.

Hiester Clymer campaign ribbon | 2015.22.42 | Heinz History Center Collections
Democrat Hiester Clymer ran for Pennsylvania governor in 1866 on an unapologetically racist platform. He lost to Republican John Geary, a Union general who supported voting rights for African Americans. <em>Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.42. Photo by Carrie Hadley.</em>
Andrew Curtin as the "People's Party" candidate in 1860 | 2015.22.867 | Heinz History Center Collections
Most likely to unite Know-Nothings, Free-Soilers, and Whigs who found themselves party-less and were wary about joining the fledgling Republican Party, Andrew Curtin sometimes appeared as the “People’s Party” candidate during the 1860 election. <em>Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.867. Photo by Carrie Hadley.</em>
Button for John P. Elkin’s race for governor in 1902. | 2015.22.463 | Heinz History Center Collections
Button for John P. Elkin’s race for governor in the 1902 election. The button’s slogan, “The Plow Boy of Indiana,” emphasizes Elkin’s roots in his home in Indiana County, Pa. <em>Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.463. Photo by Carrie Hadley.</em>
John W. Geary campaign ribbon | 2015.22.46 | Heinz History Center Collections
Many of Geary’s campaign artifacts, however, tend to emphasize his military service and loyalty to the Republican Party and Abraham Lincoln’s platforms during the Civil War, which Clymer did not support. A quote from General Ulysses S. Grant printed on Geary’s ribbon gives advice: “Vote for only such men as were true to the Country in 1861.” These ribbons show the complicated political atmosphere in the first gubernatorial election following the Civil War. <em>Heinz History Center Collections 2015.22.46. Photo by Carrie Hadley.</em>
William Stone badge | 2015.22.392 | Heinz History Center Collections
This badge for Republican gubernatorial candidate William Stone features a faded image of the Fort Pitt Block House on the face of the button, perhaps as an appeal to Stone’s “Pittsburg” supporters. <em>Heinz History Center Collections, 2015.22.392. Photo by Carrie Hadley.</em>

While the objects share a wealth of information, we will learn more as we continue to process and research this collection.

To view a selection of the materials from this collection, visit the History Center’s Visible Storage on the fourth floor.

Carrie Hadley is a cataloger at the Heinz History Center.

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