"FDR" (1948), carved-head
cork bottle stopper


An Exhibition of Political Americana

October 17 2000 - March 16 2001
Kroch Library Exhibition Gallery, Level 2B

The 19th century saw the transformation of American politics from a primarily elite concern to the focus of massive popular excitement. Broadened rights of suffrage, political parties, nominating conventions, electoral machinery, and electioneering made elections truly popular in nature. Beginning in the late 1820s, public participation and dramatic spectacle characterized political life. Men, women, and children joined in fireworks, parades, and demonstrations. Limited literacy and an increasing demand for popular entertainment led many Americans to make their election choices based on visual or oral messages, rather than on newspaper editorials or party platforms.

For over 150 years, presidential campaigns have relied partly on material objects to attract votes. Every presidential election has inspired and made use of objects—medalets, bandannas, walking sticks, ceramics, ribbons, buttons, bumper stickers—for partisan purposes. Such items, along with cartoons and printed ephemera, augment and illuminate the more conventional documentary sources on American political history.

This exhibition tells the story of the campaign object. The majority of the material on display is from the Susan H. Douglas Collection of Political Americana. Acquired from an individual collector in 1957, the Douglas collection includes approximately 5,500 items dating from 1789 to 1960. Items from the campaigns of 1960 through 1972 are from other holdings in the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections and from private individuals.

Susan Szasz Palmer
Head of Public Service


Prevalent between 1880 and 1920, campaign cards were usually used to advertise products—everything from fabric to ale to mincemeat. Issued a year after the protracted Republican Party convention in 1880, at which delegates rejected a third term for President Ulysses S. Grant and instead nominated James Garfield, this set of cards forms a colorful picture puzzle. One of the pieces depicts Ulysses S. Grant uttering the principal slogan of his 1868 campaign, "Let Us Have Peace." Altogether, the set consists of 18 pieces, six with heads, six with midriffs, and six with legs and feet—each with a few choice words that parody Grant and other politicians. The combinations of pieces are as varied as the imagination, with the majority of possibilities more cynical than complimentary (and a few, surprisingly contemporary).

Picture Puzzle
Cards, 1881

Read the Cornell Chronicle's article on this exhibit

This exhibition is made possible through the generosity of the Stephen C. and Karen L. Parker Fund and of the Arnold '44 and Gloria Tofias Fund.

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Cornell University Library Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections
Carl A. Kroch Library, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York. (607) 255-3530