Skip to main content

The Most Famous Political Campaign Button

Some people collect stamps or coins, while others invest in baseball cards or Barbie® dolls. But there is also a whole world of collectors whose item of choice is the political campaign button. One appraiser said that political buttons are like a “microcosm of political history for the 20th century”, with many treating them with the same reverence given to the first American flags, the Declaration of Independence, and other artifacts from America’s past. It does not matter if you are a Democrat, Republican, or Independent, campaign buttons are invaluable pieces of American history.

Early Political Campaign Buttons

George Washington wore the first political button, a clothing button made of brass, in 1789 at his first Presidential inauguration with the phrase “G.W.-Long Live the President.” The slogan was based off the British’s “Long Live the King” cry. An original George Washington cloth button could now easily be worth tens of thousands of dollars.

In 1860, Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin ran for the Presidency. Many believe that Lincoln was the first president to use buttons as a true campaign tool. Political button pins during this era started to feature daguerreotypes of the candidates and is the first time portraits ever appeared on campaign buttons. One of these buttons, in perfect condition, would be worth over $1000 to most modern collectors.

Photo of Abraham Lincoln political button
Photo: Library of Congress

The first mass production of metal buttons, the design we are familiar with today for most campaigns, happened during the 1896 William McKinley campaign for president. These campaign buttons were “celluloid” buttons, with one side of a metal disk covered with paper containing the printed message, and protected by a layer of clear plastic.  It’s ironic that campaign button pins haven’t changed much over the years; political buttons are still produced with a metal casing, covered with paper and protected by clear plastic we call mylar. The only difference is that we now have a jewelers safety pin attached to the button back.

One of the most famous uses of campaign buttons occurred during the 1940 U.S. presidential election, when Wendell Willkie’s campaign produced millions of buttons in response to news stories about President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It reads: “That’s right Franklin, Spinach is Spinach”. According to NPR, this button can be traced back to a New Yorker cartoon, where a mother and daughter are sitting around a dinner table. The mother says “It’s broccoli, dear”, while the daughter pushes away the plate and responds, “I say it’s spinach and I say the hell with it.” This is to suggest Willkie’s nature it to “tell it like it is”, while Roosevelt is guilty of spinning the truth.

Political Campaign Button Prices

Aside from the Washington button, the price of past campaign buttons doesn’t always rise in relation to its age. Some of the most popular buttons have sentimental value attached to them, such as buttons created for the Kennedy Presidential campaign. “A Kennedy-Humphrey button can be worth $300-$500. This outranks even Lincoln, Roosevelt and Huey Long memorabilia,” said collectibles writer Joyce Worley. Obviously the more obscure buttons, such as those with spelling errors, are considered more collectible simply because they are harder to come by.

“Since the turn of the century, the political button has just dominated the political advertising, until television came in. Now it’s a dying art.” Political campaign button collectors are hoping to preserve the art and the history that is inherently a part of those buttons for generations to come. Whether it’s for President, Governor, Mayor or local election campaign, button pins will stand the test of time.  

Showing support (or disdain) for presidential candidates through button pins is a practice nearly as old as the office of the 1st U.S. President George Washington, and over time it has evolved with the changing political landscape we are living in today.  Campaign Button Pin history may be hundreds of years old, but still remain wearable signs of the times.  Even today’s COVID-19 themed campaign buttons will become part of a collection one day.

Button pins are now making a comeback as they can be seen from a safe 6 foot distance and can be customized to your needs. Who knows, the buttons we make for you might become collectable 100 years from now!

Questions?

If you have any questions about your custom button order or the ordering process, you can always give us a call at 623-445-9975, or send us an email at sales@custombuttons.com. You can also reach us through the chat feature on our website during business hours (8am-5pm Arizona Time). We are here to help in every step of your button ordering process, from beginning your order to shipping your buttons for delivery.

As always, we are in this business because Everyone Loves Buttons®!

Connect with us:

Twitter: @LuvMyButtons

Facebook: Everyone Loves Buttons

Instagram: Everyone Loves Buttons