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11 Campaign Slogans That Went Beyond Buzzwords

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Christine Lusey runs Retro Campaigns, the internet's premier source for historical campaign t-shirts and memorabilia. We asked if she could compile some memorable slogans from past elections. She did not disappoint.

These days it seems like every campaign slogan is just a series of political buzzwords. But it wasn't always this way. Here are some old slogans we hope will inspire the next crop of candidates to go with something unique.

1. Al Smith (1928)

Proponents of the nationwide prohibition against the sale, manufacture, and transportation of alcohol were called "drys," while opponents, like 1928 presidential candidate Al Smith, were called "wets."

2. Anti-FDR (1940)

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Clearly, not everyone was pleased when Franklin Delano Roosevelt broke with tradition and announced he would seek a third term in 1940.

3 & 4. The Case for — and Against — Barry Goldwater (1964)

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Republican Barry Goldwater never shied away from tough talk during the 1964 presidential campaign, and while many Americans reacted positively to his aggressive stance on the perceived Communist threat (he joked about dropping a nuclear bomb "into the men's room at the Kremlin"), others were a little less sure. So when the Goldwater camp ran with "In Your Heart, You Know He's Right," Democratic nominee Lyndon Johnson quickly countered with "In Your Guts You Know He's Nuts."

5. Adlai Stevenson (1952)

When a photographer caught a picture of Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson with a hole in his shoe in 1952, the quick-witted Stevenson said, "Better a hole in the shoe than a hole in the head!" The now-iconic image came to represent Stevenson as a frugal everyman, and was soon seen on buttons and made into pins and paperweights. He still lost to war hero Dwight D. Eisenhower (twice!).

T-shirt available from RetroCampaigns.com

6. Thomas Dewey

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Thomas Dewey was twice the Republican candidate for president, losing to Franklin Roosevelt in 1944 and Harry Truman in 1948. The double-meaning of the Democratic Party donkey symbol wouldn't have been lost on anyone.

7. Anti-FDR (1940)

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The iconic image we know as Alfred E. Neuman actually predates the debut of Mad Magazine in 1954 and appeared in various incarnations dating back to the 19th century. Here the "simp" is opposing FDR in 1940.

8. William Henry Harrison (and Tyler Too!) (1840)

In 1840, the Whigs took advantage of William Henry Harrison's military victory at the Tippecanoe River in the Indiana Territory over a confederation of Native American tribes. He would enjoy greater success later in the War of 1812, but it was the battle at Tippecanoe that stuck with Harrison and provided easy campaign material for the Whigs. "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" (John Tyler was his running mate) remains a classic campaign slogan.

T-shirt available from RetroCampaigns.com

9. The Prostitute Vote (1960)

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Will it be John Kennedy or Richard Nixon in 1960? The world's oldest profession wisely chooses to remain neutral, thank you very much.

10. Franklin Pierce (1852)

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By 1844, the Whigs had abandoned incumbent President John Tyler and instead nominated Henry Clay to face off against Democrat James K. Polk, a man so unknown to the public that one of the Whigs' campaign slogans that year was "Who is James K. Polk?"

Well, Polk won, so, in 1852, when the Whigs found themselves in a similar position... they did the exact same thing. Chucking President Millard Fillmore in favor of General Winfield Scott to run against Democrat Franklin Pierce probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Like Polk, Pierce was nobody's first choice: there were 35 ballots at the national convention before Pierce was even mentioned, while Scott was a war hero. As in 1844, the Whigs tried to use the Democratic candidate's obscurity to their advantage. The Democrats saw similarities as well, campaigning with one of the all-time-great slogans: "We Polked you in 1844; we shall Pierce you in 1852!" And again the Whigs saw their man defeated. The party was dissolved before the next presidential election.

11. Grover Cleveland (1884)

Image from the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, Washington, D.C.

If you're a fan of negative campaigning, then 1884 is your year. The Democrats and their nominee, Grover Cleveland, tried to capitalize on rumors of corruption that plagued Republican nominee James Blaine with the catchy little ditty: "Blaine! Blaine! James G. Blaine! Continental liar from the state of Maine!"

Then Republicans were handed a gift when a newspaper revealed that Cleveland fathered an illegitimate child. Blaine supporters gleefully chanted "Ma, Ma where's my Pa?" at rallies.

But the Democrats had the last laugh: after Cleveland was elected, they added the line, "Gone to the White House, Ha, Ha, Ha!"

This post originally appeared in 2011. Go take in more political history over at Retro Campaigns.

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Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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A.C. Gilbert, the Toymaker Who (Actually) Saved Christmas 
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Travel Salem via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Alfred Carlton Gilbert was told he had 15 minutes to convince the United States government not to cancel Christmas.

For hours, he paced the outer hall, awaiting his turn before the Council of National Defense. With him were the tools of his trade: toy submarines, air rifles, and colorful picture books. As government personnel walked by, Gilbert, bashful about his cache of kid things, tried hiding them behind a leather satchel.

Finally, his name was called. It was 1918, the U.S. was embroiled in World War I, and the Council had made an open issue about their deliberation over whether to halt all production of toys indefinitely, turning factories into ammunition centers and even discouraging giving or receiving gifts that holiday season. Instead of toys, they argued, citizens should be spending money on war bonds. Playthings had become inconsequential.

Frantic toymakers persuaded Gilbert, founder of the A.C. Gilbert Company and creator of the popular Erector construction sets, to speak on their behalf. Toys in hand, he faced his own personal firing squad of military generals, policy advisors, and the Secretary of War.

Gilbert held up an air rifle and began to talk. What he’d say next would determine the fate of the entire toy industry.

Even if he had never had to testify on behalf of Christmas toys, A.C. Gilbert would still be remembered for living a remarkable life. Born in Oregon in 1884, Gilbert excelled at athletics, once holding the world record for consecutive chin-ups (39) and earning an Olympic gold medal in the pole vault during the 1908 Games. In 1909, he graduated from Yale School of Medicine with designs on remaining in sports as a health advisor.

But medicine wasn’t where Gilbert found his passion. A lifelong performer of magic, he set his sights on opening a business selling illusionist kits. The Mysto Manufacturing Company didn’t last long, but it proved to Gilbert that he had what it took to own and operate a small shingle. In 1916, three years after introducing the Erector sets, he renamed Mysto the A.C. Gilbert Company.

Erector was a big hit in the burgeoning American toy market, which had typically been fueled by imported toys from Germany. Kids could take the steel beams and make scaffolding, bridges, and other small-development projects. With the toy flying off shelves, Gilbert’s factory in New Haven, Connecticut grew so prosperous that he could afford to offer his employees benefits that were uncommon at the time, like maternity leave and partial medical insurance.

Gilbert’s reputation for being fair and level-headed led the growing toy industry to elect him their president for the newly created Toy Manufacturers of America, an assignment he readily accepted. But almost immediately, his position became something other than ceremonial: His peers began to grow concerned about the country’s involvement in the war and the growing belief that toys were a dispensable effort.

President Woodrow Wilson had appointed a Council of National Defense to debate these kinds of matters. The men were so preoccupied with the consequences of the U.S. marching into a European conflict that something as trivial as a pull-string toy or chemistry set seemed almost insulting to contemplate. Several toy companies agreed to convert to munitions factories, as did Gilbert. But when the Council began discussing a blanket prohibition on toymaking and even gift-giving, Gilbert was given an opportunity to defend his industry.

Before Gilbert was allowed into the Council’s chambers, a Naval guard inspected each toy for any sign of sabotage. Satisfied, he allowed Gilbert in. Among the officials sitting opposite him were Secretary of War Newton Baker and Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels.

“The greatest influences in the life of a boy are his toys,” Gilbert said. “Yet through the toys American manufacturers are turning out, he gets both fun and an education. The American boy is a genuine boy and wants genuine toys."

He drew an air rifle, showing the committee members how a child wielding less-than-lethal weapons could make for a better marksman when he was old enough to become a soldier. He insisted construction toys—like the A.C. Gilbert Erector Set—fostered creative thinking. He told the men that toys provided a valuable escape from the horror stories coming out of combat.

Armed with play objects, a boy’s life could be directed toward “construction, not destruction,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert then laid out his toys for the board to examine. Secretary Daniels grew absorbed with a toy submarine, marveling at the detail and asking Gilbert if it could be bought anywhere in the country. Other officials examined children’s books; one began pushing a train around the table.

The word didn’t come immediately, but the expressions on the faces of the officials told the story: Gilbert had won them over. There would be no toy or gift embargo that year.

Naturally, Gilbert still devoted his work floors to the production efforts for both the first and second world wars. By the 1950s, the A.C. Gilbert Company was dominating the toy business with products that demanded kids be engaged and attentive. Notoriously, he issued a U-238 Atomic Energy Lab, which came complete with four types of uranium ore. “Completely safe and harmless!” the box promised. A Geiger counter was included. At $50 each, Gilbert lost money on it, though his decision to produce it would earn him a certain infamy in toy circles.

“It was not suitable for the same age groups as our simpler chemistry and microscope sets, for instance,” he once said, “and you could not manufacture such a thing as a beginner’s atomic energy lab.”

Gilbert’s company reached an astounding $20 million in sales in 1953. By the mid-1960s, just a few years after Gilbert's death in 1961, it was gone, driven out of business by the apathy of new investors. No one, it seemed, had quite the same passion for play as Gilbert, who had spent over half a century providing fun and educational fare that kids were ecstatic to see under their trees.

When news of the Council’s 1918 decision reached the media, The Boston Globe's front page copy summed up Gilbert’s contribution perfectly: “The Man Who Saved Christmas.”

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The Queen of Code: Remembering Grace Hopper
By Lynn Gilbert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Grace Hopper was a computing pioneer. She coined the term "computer bug" after finding a moth stuck inside Harvard's Mark II computer in 1947 (which in turn led to the term "debug," meaning solving problems in computer code). She did the foundational work that led to the COBOL programming language, used in mission-critical computing systems for decades (including today). She worked in World War II using very early computers to help end the war. When she retired from the U.S. Navy at age 79, she was the oldest active-duty commissioned officer in the service. Hopper, who was born on this day in 1906, is a hero of computing and a brilliant role model, but not many people know her story.

In this short documentary from FiveThirtyEight, directed by Gillian Jacobs, we learned about Grace Hopper from several biographers, archival photographs, and footage of her speaking in her later years. If you've never heard of Grace Hopper, or you're even vaguely interested in the history of computing or women in computing, this is a must-watch:

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