The following is an interview featuring Jan Grenci, Reference Specialist – Posters, Prints and Photographs Division.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Take a look at photos related to voting from the Farm Security Administration Collection.
- Take a look at our Image Lists for the Presidents of the United States and the less fortunate “Also Rans: Losing Presidential Candidates of the United States“.
- Look back at a previous blog post about the book, Presidential Campaign Posters from the Library of Congress.
- Make use of Library of Congress resources for teaching about elections in the classroom!