Promotional buttons, also known as “campaign buttons,” have been used since the time of George Washington to relay messages or show support for a political candidate or party. Not only are they a cheap, easy form of advertising, but they are also woven into the history of the United States.
The first promotional campaign buttons were used by George Washington and his supporters at Washington’s inauguration in 1789. The president and his party wore brass buttons sewn on to their clothing that read, “G.W. – Long Live the President”.
In 1860, Abraham Lincoln used a ferrotype photo process to transfer his image onto a tin button. These buttons were worn to show support for Lincoln, and today are a highly coveted collectors item.
The earliest prototype of the buttons we see today was used in 1896 for William McKinley’s campaign against William Jennings Brown. He took a metal backing and applied a paper front with an image on it, and then covered it in a thin layer of celluloid. This ushered in a “golden age” of promotional buttons, when people experimented with colorful designs and images.
In 1940, Wendell Willkie took an innovative step by adding a slogan to his campaign buttons when he ran against Franklin D. Roosevelt. His first buttons simply said “Willkie”, but he later went on to print such slogans as “The American Way of Life” and “We the People Need Willkie”. This began the age of slogan buttons, a tradition that still exists today.
Nowadays, promotional buttons are generally made with a metal or tin backing, and the image, design or slogan is printed directly onto the surface of the disc. A clear layer of Mylar covers the image to protect it from water damage and the fading effects of the sun.
Promotional buttons are a great way to get a message out, and to show support for presidential or political candidate or party. They are a very low cost promotional tool, and easy to make and use. In addition, they have an aura of nostalgia to them, and can even be considered a genuine piece of US history.