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Presidential Campaigns of the 1800s Involved A Surprising Amount of Flags and Throw Pillows

See how election merchandise looked in the 19th century.

Abraham Lincoln campaign flag, 1860. "Until the design of the American flag was standardized in 1912, flagmakers enjoyed creating their own arrangements. This flag has an unusual “Great Star” pattern, a star formed from individual stars."
Abraham Lincoln campaign flag, 1860. "Until the design of the American flag was standardized in 1912, flagmakers enjoyed creating their own arrangements. This flag has an unusual “Great Star” pattern, a star formed from individual stars." Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.

President William Henry Harrison may be best known, rather unfortunately, for being the country’s shortest serving president. But he’s also credited with two other unusual facts. It’s because of Harrison that we have the phrase, “keep the ball rolling”, which he adopted after his supporters pushed a ball of tin from Cleveland to Columbus. We can also thank Harrison for election merchandise; his campaign of 1840 has been regarded as the first marketing-savvy campaign, complete with symbols, slogans, songs and souvenirs.

Even in the beginning, this effort contained name-calling and spin. The Democrats portrayed Harrison as a backwards and unsophisticated, and even took a shot at his mother: “Why he’s just a backwoodsman. He eats corn pone [corn bread] and drinks cider. His mother still lives in a log cabin.” But Harrison’s campaign just embraced the “man of the people” image and even adopted the log cabin as a symbol—despite the fact that Harrison had been raised to a wealthy family on a Virginia plantation.

For Harrison’s supporters, there were campaign songs and plenty of merchandise, including neckties, whiskey decanters, pitchers and flags. In fact throughout the 19th century, flags played a key role in political campaigning, which is the subject of a new exhibition at the George Washington Museum and The Textile Museum. 

William Henry Harrison and Reform campaign flag, 1840, with a ball emblem: "keep the ball rolling".
William Henry Harrison and Reform campaign flag, 1840, with a ball emblem: “keep the ball rolling”. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.

While the exhibition does focus on flags, there are also other textile-related ephemera—such as the unexpected presence of political throw pillows. One of the more unusual items relates to Theodore Roosevelt, where the candidate is depicted inside a red heart. It was, according to the Museum, designed for women to buy and display at home to influence male voters. Somehow, women were deemed worthy of election merchandise marketing—even before they got the the right to vote. 

Here is selection of images from the exhibition, which runs through to April 10, 2017. 

A 13-Star William Henry Harrison campaign flag, 1840."The log cabin suggested Harrison was a simple man of the people, although he actually was a Virginia aristocrat".
A 13-Star William Henry Harrison campaign flag, 1840.”The log cabin suggested Harrison was a simple man of the people, although he actually was a Virginia aristocrat”. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
A 13-Star Henry Clay campaign flag, 1844. "Candidate Henry Clay is promoted as the best choice to head the ship of state, pictured here."
A 13-Star Henry Clay campaign flag, 1844. “Candidate Henry Clay is promoted as the best choice to head the ship of state, pictured here.” Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
A 27-Star James K. Polk campaign flag, 1844. "This large campaign flag includes an extra blue star on the upper white stripe to promote the immediate annexation of Texas as a state and westward expansion."
A 27-Star James K. Polk campaign flag, 1844. “This large campaign flag includes an extra blue star on the upper white stripe to promote the immediate annexation of Texas as a state and westward expansion.” Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
Abraham Lincoln campaign banner, 1860, featuring a beardless Lincoln.
Abraham Lincoln campaign banner, 1860, featuring a beardless Lincoln. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
A 35-Star “free” Abraham Lincoln campaign flag, 1864. "Thirty-five stars arranged to spell “FREE” proclaim the Republican Party’s opposition to slavery during the Civil War and, with the extra star, anticipates the addition of Nevada as a new state."
A 35-Star “free” Abraham Lincoln campaign flag, 1864. “Thirty-five stars arranged to spell “FREE” proclaim the Republican Party’s opposition to slavery during the Civil War and, with the extra star, anticipates the addition of Nevada as a new state.” Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
<em>The Inauguration of President Garfield—View of the Grand Military and Civic Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue Looking from the Dome of the Capitol</em>, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 19, 1881.
The Inauguration of President Garfield—View of the Grand Military and Civic Procession on Pennsylvania Avenue Looking from the Dome of the Capitol, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 19, 1881. Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at the George Washington University Museum.
<em>The Presidential Party Passing through the Grand Arch, en Route to the White House, after the Inauguration</em>, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 19, 1881.
The Presidential Party Passing through the Grand Arch, en Route to the White House, after the Inauguration, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 19, 1881. Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at the George Washington University Museum.
Benjamin Harrison campaign bandanna, 1888, featuring portraits of both Harrison and his running mate Levi Morton.  reminds voters that Harrison promised “protection” for U.S. industries through high tariffs".
Benjamin Harrison campaign bandanna, 1888, featuring portraits of both Harrison and his running mate Levi Morton. reminds voters that Harrison promised “protection” for U.S. industries through high tariffs”. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
George Washington pillow cover, 1889, likely created for the centenary of Washington's first inauguration.
George Washington pillow cover, 1889, likely created for the centenary of Washington’s first inauguration. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
<em>Preparing for the Inauguration—Work House Prisoners Clearing East Capitol Street</em>, by C. Upham, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, March 2, 1889.
Preparing for the Inauguration—Work House Prisoners Clearing East Capitol Street, by C. Upham, Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, March 2, 1889. Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection at the George Washington University Museum.
Theodore Roosevelt pillow cover, 1906, designed for women to display at home "to influence male voters. President Roosevelt is seen as a Rough Rider at top, and as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905".
Theodore Roosevelt pillow cover, 1906, designed for women to display at home “to influence male voters. President Roosevelt is seen as a Rough Rider at top, and as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize for brokering the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905”. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
Theodore Roosevelt campaign kerchief, 1912. "Roosevelt campaigned in 1912 as leader of the new Progressive “Bull Moose” Party. Symbols connected to the vivacious politician, including the Teddy Bear and the “Big Stick,” fill the bandanna".
Theodore Roosevelt campaign kerchief, 1912. “Roosevelt campaigned in 1912 as leader of the new Progressive “Bull Moose” Party. Symbols connected to the vivacious politician, including the Teddy Bear and the “Big Stick,” fill the bandanna”. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.
Richard Nixon campaign flag, 1960.
Richard Nixon campaign flag, 1960. Collection of Mark and Rosalind Shenkman.