Keep the Ball Rolling

(This is the first in a series of posts featuring presidential campaign items from the Library’s collections.)

In Washington, there’s always a time and place to talk politics, even more so in an election year. Today we get televised speeches and conventions, commercials, celebrity endorsements and citizens proudly showcasing their candidate choice through stickers, buttons, car decals and t-shirts.

Our political forebears weren’t beyond their own pomp and circumstance, albeit not televised ones. As a publicity stunt in the 1888 presidential campaign, supporters of Benjamin Harrison rolled a huge ball covered with campaign slogans halfway across the country.

Benjamin Harrison campaign ball, 1888 / Prints and Photographs Division

Inscribed on the ball was:

“Old Allegany in 1840 started the ball for Harrison; In ’88 as they did then, We roll it on for Gallant Ben. Roll along, Roll away, Keep the ball in motion; The spirit of our men is up from Rocky Hills to Ocean.”

The ball was a replica of one built for Harrison’s grandfather, William Henry Harrison, for his 1840 presidential campaign. The gimmick gave rise to the phrase, “Keep the ball rolling.”

D. E. Brockett of Cumberland, Md., built the steel-ribbed and canvas-covered sphere and rolled it approximately 5,000 miles and several states to Benjamin Harrison’s home state of Indiana.

Harrison, a republican, challenged democrat and sitting president Grover Cleveland in the 1888 presidential election. Harrison lost the popular by a narrow margin but became president by winning in the Electoral College.

Typical of the era, neither candidate hit the campaign trail themselves, although Harrison conducted a successful “front porch” campaign from his Indianapolis home, helping him win the key states of Indiana and New York.

Cleveland would turn around and defeat Harrison in the 1894 presidential election making him the first president to serve two nonconsecutive terms in office.

UPDATE: Here are descriptions of the ball found in a couple of historical newspaper articles (here and here) in Chronicling America.



  1. ryder
    August 12, 2012 at 8:33 am

    campaign with a ball… ! lol

  2. mattmaldre
    November 27, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    That’s something the presidential campaigns was missing this year—a ten-foot-tall campaign ball.

    Wow instead of going around America, they campaigned from their front porch. All the while, this campaign ball was rolled 5,000 miles.

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