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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Why Do Politicians Kiss Babies?

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

When a politician hits the campaign trail, it’s expected that he or she will press a plethora of palms and embrace a lot of infants. The handshaking makes sense, but the baby-kissing tradition is often an awkward, germy situation for everyone involved. So why does anyone do it?

It turns out there’s precedent for smooching chubby cheeks that goes back to Andrew Jackson, and maybe further. According to a story printed in 1887, Jackson, aware that baby-handling was part of the deal, eagerly grabbed a dirty-faced infant from his mother during an 1833 tour of New Jersey, declaring the tot “a fine specimen of American childhood.” Then he thrust the baby into the face of his Secretary of War, General John Eaton, and said, “Eaton, kiss him.” The secretary pretended to do so, everyone laughed, and the mother had a great story to tell her friends and family. Although there are several anachronisms in this story—the most obvious being that John Eaton had resigned from the position of Secretary of War two years prior—there have been several stories of politicians kissing babies since, including Abraham Lincoln.

Today, politicians believe that showing a softer side can help them win more votes; at the very least, they may sway the doting parent. In return, in a best case scenario, mom or dad can say their child met the future President of the United States. Worst case, it’s a photo op with a famous politician. Not a bad addition to the baby book.

Not everyone thinks baby-kissing is such a great tactic, however. After Benjamin Harrison politely declined to bestow a smooch on one in 1889, suffragist/activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton praised him, and quoted the editor of the New York Tribune, who wrote, “The parent who always expects the baby to be kissed, and the person who feels bound to kiss every baby that comes within reach are equally foolish and obnoxious characters. Children have a right to their kisses as well as older folks. They should not be made the prey of every officiously amiable person in their circle.”

Nonetheless, the tradition continued, even though some politicians expressed distaste for it. Richard Nixon refused to do it, worrying that such stunts would make him "look like a jerk." Geraldine Ferraro, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate, disliked the practice, even once telling The New York Times, "As a mother, my instinctive reaction is how do you give your baby to someone who's a total stranger to kiss, especially with so many colds going around? And especially when the woman is wearing lipstick? I mean, I find that amazing that someone would do that.’’ But she did it to keep the masses happy.

On the flip side, 1968 Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey defended his affection for children as genuine, stating that being around youngsters after long hours of glad-handing adults left him feeling “refreshed.”

Modern-day candidates are split: Bernie Sanders preferred to avoid baby-kissing, Hillary Clinton does it, and Donald Trump has, too. At the end of the day, as long as politicians think puckering up to a tot will help move the needle, the puzzling practice isn't going away.

[h/t Mother Jones]

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Hess Corporation
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Pop Culture
A Speedy History of the Hess Truck
Hess Corporation
Hess Corporation

Unless you know someone crazy about air fresheners or caffeine pills, holiday gifts purchased at gas stations don’t usually provoke much excitement. But if you were one of the millions who grew up in the northeast, the annual release of the Hess toy truck at Hess gas stations—usually green, always labeled with a Hess logo, always boxed with batteries—was and is as much a part of the holiday as Santa Claus and his sleigh.

The idea for an affordable, quality children’s toy sold at service stations at thousands of Hess locations in 16 states was courtesy of Leon Hess, the college dropout-turned-fuel magnate who began selling oil door-to-door in 1933 and graduated to gas stops by 1960. Hess decided he would trump the cheap merchandise given away by gas stations—mugs, glassware—by commissioning a durable, feature-heavy toy truck modeled after the first oil tanker he ever bought for his company. Unlike most toys of the era, it would have headlights that really worked and a tank that kids could either fill up or drain with water.

Most importantly, Hess insisted it come with batteries—he knew the frustration suffered by kids who tore into a holiday present, only to discover they’d have to wait until it had a power source before it could be operated.

The Hess Tanker Truck went on sale in 1964 for $1.29 and sold out almost instantly. Hess released the toy again in 1965, and then introduced the Voyager Tanker Ship in 1966. For the next 50 years, hardly a year went by without Hess issuing a new vehicle that stood up to heavy play and offered quality and features comparable to the “real” toys on store shelves. Incredibly, fathers would wait in line for hours for an opportunity to buy one for their child.

The toy truck became so important to the Hess brand and developed such a strong following that when the company was bought out in 2014 and locations converted to the Speedway umbrella, new owners Marathon Petroleum promised they would keep making the Hess trucks. They’re now sold online, with the newest—the Dump Truck and Loader, complete with working hydraulics and STEM lesson plans—retailing for $33.99. Bigger, better toy trucks may be out there, but a half-century of tradition is hard to replicate.

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Smart Shopping
11 Brilliant Gifts for the Young Explorers in Your Life
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iStock

If your favorite kids can’t stop asking “why,” if they love running their own experiments, and if they never stop learning new things, these 11 gifts are a great place to grow their curiosity even further.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. FLACK KIT; $300

Imaginations will soar as high as this DIY airplane once it’s assembled. This kit comes with everything necessary to build this RC airplane, from the radio to the charger. All they'll need are a few simple tools, like a screwdriver, and your enterprising young engineer can pilot their first plane. No soldering of parts required.

Find It: Brooklyn Aerodrome

2. WONDERHOOD GRAND HOTEL BUILDING SET; $60

This deluxe building set from Wonderhood Toys—a company devoted to helping foster the next generation of women architects—includes 24 illustrated panels. The pieces can be connected together in different combinations in order to create a hotel building, complete with an elevator. The STEM-friendly kit also comes with two figurines, so that kids can play with their creation once they’re done designing and building it.

Find It: Wonderhood Toys

3. FIRE TABLET; $50

It might be too early give the younger set in your family a smart phone. Fortunately, the Fire Tablet is the perfect middle ground between allowing the curious kid in your family space to learn and explore on their own and being able to keep a close eye on what they’re doing. Amazon Freetime can be downloaded onto the budget-friendly Fire Tablet, which is a subscription program that only grants kids titles they’ve been given access to and allows parents to set daily screen time limits on the tablet.

Find It: Amazon

4. SOLAR SYSTEM EXPLORATION BOARD GAME; $29

Designed by a NASA scientist who has led a major space mission, this award-winning board game introduces kids to space science ideas and concepts. As they compete, players tackle the in-game challenges of developing and launching various space missions. Other players may sabotage your space exploration attempts with government shutdowns and hardware memory swipes, reflecting the real-life struggles of launching a successful mission to space.

Find It: Amazon

5. THINK & LEARN CODE-A-PILLAR; $31

Future coders and programmers can get started early with this caterpillar-shaped toy from Fisher Price. Kids learn while rearranging code-a-pillar’s body segments and figuring out what combination will make it move forward or backward, left or right.

Find It: Amazon

6. SOLAR PHOTOGRAPHY KIT; $15

Help a young artist harness the power of the sun into prints. The instructions for this budget-friendly kit are simple: Set an object or transparency on the sunography fabric included in the kit, let the sun shine down, and then remove the object for the coolest tan line ever.

Find it: Uncommon Goods

7. LITTLE PASSPORTS SUBSCRIPTION BOX; $18 per month or $180 per year

Take your favorite adventurer on a once-a-month trip around the world without ever leaving home. This subscription box service introduces preschoolers to geography through themed lessons. (There's also an option for older kids.) The first box comes with an orange suitcase, world map, an activity booklet and passport stickers, and every monthly box after that contains activities and souvenirs surrounding that month’s theme, such as art, food, landmarks or celebrations.

Find It: Little Passports

8. DA VINCI MINIMAKER 3D PRINTER; $168

It may be small, but this miniature 3D printer can whip out 6-in. creations at 100mm/second. It’s also easy to use, thanks to its 9-point calibration detection, which assures a level print bed. Your curious kid will also have access to loads of resources, like online courses and 3D modeling software specifically designed for beginners. Of course, if they want to hit print right away, there are thousands of 3D models available on the company’s website.

Find It: Amazon

9. AUTHOR'S KIT; $44

As every writer knows, nothing is more exciting than seeing your name in print for the first time. With each author’s kit, your young writer creates a story and dialogue to go along with a wordless illustrated book. Then, the company prints it and sends a copy, complete with author’s bio, to your doorstep. Every author’s kit also includes writing games, an official author’s certificate, and an idea pad to get them inspired.

Find It: Write Brain Books

10. MECCANOID G16; $145

Every tech whiz kid dreams of building their own personal robot, and now they can. MeccaNoid stands 4 feet tall and includes programmable LED eyes, voice recognition capabilities, and 10 motors, which allow it to smoothly move its arms, head, and feet. Although young programmers have three methods for programming the robot, MeccaNoid also comes with 3000 preprogrammed phrases.

Find It: Amazon

11. PROPS IN A BOX; $60

Help budding actors and directors get their movie or play off the ground with whimsical backdrops and quirky costumes. Each box has props for two distinct characters, a backdrop to hang, and access to the Props in a Box moviemaker app.

Find It: Props in a Box

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