Political Posters: An Evolving Campaign Tool

The following is an interview featuring Jan Grenci, Reference Specialist – Posters, Prints and Photographs Division.

Greeley and Brown. Print copyrighted by H.H. Lloyd & Co., 1872. //www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/pga.02043/

Greeley and Brown. Print copyrighted by H.H. Lloyd & Co., 1872. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pga.02043

Many may ask if campaign posters make a difference in political elections. Some of us will stick a sign in our lawn, and others may simply see posters hung in storefront windows. With another election upon us, I turned to our Poster Specialist to reflect upon campaign posters of the past, and ask about the changes she has noticed in the design of political placards over time.

Lara: Please share with us a couple of your favorite political campaign posters, and tell us what about them catches your eye.

Jan: Usually, I admire a poster that gets its message across quickly and succinctly. But you have to be impressed by the information overload on this poster.

This poster includes the results of every presidential election from 1796 to 1868, the population of each state and territory in 1870, biographies of Horace Greeley and B. Gratz Brown, portraits of past presidents, the Liberal Republican Party platform, a map of the United States, and much more.

On the other hand, I like Student Magazine’s McCarthy supporters as “Spirit of ’76” poster (below) because it reinterprets a famous nineteenth century image of a moment in the American Revolution in a modern way.

McCarthy supporters as "Spirit of '76". Poster published by Student Magazine (Firm), between 1968 and 1976. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g06515

McCarthy supporters as “Spirit of ’76”. Poster published by Student Magazine (Firm), between 1968 and 1976. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3g06515

<em>Yankee doodle 1776</em> / A.M. Willard. Chromolithograph published by J.F. Ryder, c1876. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.05936

Yankee doodle 1776 / A.M. Willard. Chromolithograph published by J.F. Ryder, c1876. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.05936

Lara: What are the major changes in trends (style, technique, etc.) that you have noticed from the earliest political campaign posters up to the present?

Jan: Over time, posters seem to have become much simpler in design. Many posters from present day campaigns are text only, including the name of the candidate, and sometimes a campaign slogan, as you can see in this photo of a polling place during the 2010 D.C. mayoral election.

Political campaign posters located at the Hine Junior High School, on 8th Street, near intersection with D St. SE, Washington, D.C. Photograph by Carol Highsmith, 2010. //www.loc.gov/pictures/resource/highsm.10103/

Political campaign posters located at the Hine Junior High School, on 8th Street, near intersection with D St. SE, Washington, D.C.  Photograph by Carol Highsmith, 2010. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.10103

Lara: What makes a successful campaign poster to you?

Jan: This William Howard Taft poster is very well-designed. It is eye-catching, incorporates red, white, and blue and a flattering portrait of the candidate. It also associates a positive message of “Good Times” with Taft.

Wm. H. Taft - "good times". Chromolithograph by Allied Printing Trades Council, c1908. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.10590

Wm. H. Taft – “good times”. Chromolithograph by Allied Printing Trades Council, c1908. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.10590

Lara: Any other thoughts?

Jan: This year’s election is notable for its historic first, a woman as a major party candidate. But there have been female candidates in the past. In 1972, Shirley Chisholm declared herself unbought and unbossed in her unsuccessful attempt to capture the Democratic nomination for President.

Bring U.S. together. Vote Chisolm 1972, unbought and unbossed. Poster by N.G. Slater Corporation, 1972. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.42048

Bring U.S. together. Vote Chisolm 1972, unbought and unbossed. Poster by N.G. Slater Corporation, 1972. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/ppmsca.42048

 

The living room in the home of the Thaxtons, Mechnicsburg, Ohio . Photograph by Ben Shahn, Summer 1938. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a18571

The living room in the home of the Thaxtons, Mechnicsburg, Ohio. Photograph by Ben Shahn, Summer 1938. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8a18571

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One Comment

  1. Gay Colyer
    November 27, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Great interview and well chosen examples demonstrate your points.

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