The oldest political lapel pins were buttons meant to slip over a button attached to a man’s lapel. They were created for George Washington’s inauguration with many proudly showing a bust of Washington along with the words ‘Pater Patriæ’ a Latin phrase meaning “Father of the Country.” In February 2018, one of these buttons was sold in Dallas, Texas, for $225,000. From then until now, many politicians have had their likeliness, or a symbol shown on custom lapel pins.
Ferrotype Campaign Pins
By the time that Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860, presidential campaign buttons had changed. His was the first to show an image of the president on them. They were also some of the earliest ferrotype pins produced. They were also among the first to have a locking device on the back of them instead of fitting over a button. Several different designs are collected because each organization where Lincoln campaigned made their own custom lapel pins.
Celluloid Campaign Pins
The first mass-produced campaign pins were created in 1896 for William McKinley who was running against William Jennings Bryan. These pins are also among the oldest to use celluloid technology allowing buttons to be created cheaply.
Pins Show Support for Vietnam War
By the early 1960s, campaign pins changed again with many grassroots organizations creating their own pins proclaiming their support for a particular issue rather than a candidate. By the late 1960s, many wore flag lapel pins as a sign of support for patriotic solidarity against anti-Vietnam protesters like Abbie Hoffman.
President Nixon Takes Hint from a Movie
President Richard Nixon was the first to make the wearing of a flag pin part of his campaign. H. R. Haldeman suggested the idea to the president after observing a character in the movie The Candidate wearing one. President Nixon thought it was a great idea and told his supporters to go wear them.
Flag pins Following 9/11
While many people wore them during the Gulf War to show their support of the troops fighting there, it was not until 9/11 that wearing flag pins became popular with the public. Before speaking to the public when the World Trade Center collapsed, President George Bush put one on and had his top supporters do the same. The public took the hint and soon many were wearing flag pins every day.
President Obama’s Flag Pin Controversy
The wearing of a flag lapel pin became a political point during President Obama’s presidential campaign when it was falsely reported that he said he would never wear a flag lapel pin. While Obama became the first candidate to not wear one in a long time, his statement was that he believed it was more important what was in a person’s heart than what they wore on their lapel.
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