Campaigning for the Presidency, 1960-1972: Selections from the Museum of Democracy On View Through November 27, 2016
Coinciding with the 2016 presidential election, the New-York Historical Society will explore campaign memorabilia and the ephemera of American politics through the shifting styles, rhetoric, and aesthetics of four presidential elections and other political contests in the 1960s and early 1970s. On view August 26 – November 27, 2016, Campaigning for the Presidency, 1960-1972: Selections from the Museum of Democracy will showcase more than 120 objects from the planned Museum of Democracy/Wright Family Collection, considered one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive collections of political campaign memorabilia.
“With this year’s presidential election reaching a crescendo, we aim to remind New Yorkers what elections looked like before 24/7 news coverage and social media,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “As [the late] New York Mayor Ed Koch said, campaign memorabilia is ‘the sparkle and glitter of which our campaigns are made’ and that certainly comes through in this exhibition, which illustrates the integral role that ephemera had in American politics. We are pleased to share the Wright Family Collection with our visitors and give a taste of what’s to come in the planned Museum of Democracy.”
Curated by New-York Historical Society Research Associate Cristian Panaite, the exhibition will feature objects from the presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon (1960); Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater (1964); the three-way contest between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace (1968); and Richard Nixon vs. George McGovern (1972), tracing changes in tone and style of the 1960s and early 1970s and reflecting contemporary developments in campaign strategy.
Highlights will include bold posters, paper dresses, dolls and board games, t-shirts, paper and vinyl stickers, lapel pins, buttons, and other ephemera that range in tone from idealistic, to humorous, to scathingly critical. The exhibition will also feature some iconic television commercials from this era when the medium transformed politics, such as the controversial “Peace Little Girl (Daisy)” from 1964, which Johnson’s campaign created to demonstrate the danger of putting Goldwater in charge of the nuclear button. Memorabilia created for other prominent primary candidates of this era, such as Robert F. Kennedy and Nelson Rockefeller, will also be on view.
Focusing on four major presidential campaigns, the exhibition will begin with the 1960 John F. Kennedy vs. Richard Nixon contest, when Kennedy famously beat a sweaty and nervous-looking Nixon in the first live televised debate. Among the objects on view from this campaign will be a vest and hat featuring the slogan “Kennedy is the Remedy,” worn by an usher at the Democratic convention, and an elephant-shaped bobble-head doll wearing a “Nixon for President” sash.
The 1964 Lyndon B. Johnson vs. Barry Goldwater campaign proved to be a gold mine for memorabilia. Goldwater’s campaign team seized on “gold” as a theme of many campaign products, producing quirky items such as Gold Water aftershave, “An After Shave for Americans.” Not only was it a play on the candidate’s name, but connecting Goldwater to cleanliness might have been a conservative reaction to “dirty hippies.” Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaign made an effort to promote his all-American, Western rancher image through a hay bale that reads “Johnson Grass Hay From One Good Democrat to Another.”
The 1968 election was a three-way contest between Richard Nixon, Hubert Humphrey, and George Wallace, a chaotic situation due in part to the shocking assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the presumptive Democratic nominee. As fashions changed in the late 1960s, paper dresses proved a cost effective way to present the candidate in a bold, colorful Pop Art light. Worn at election rallies for Nixon and Humphrey, several of these dresses will be on view, including one with Nixon’s name in a patriotic star-spangled print and others with colorful patterns of candidates’ faces. Nixon’s running mate, Vice President Spiro Agnew, also inspired wearable memorabilia during the 1968 campaign, such as a jewelry set of earrings and a brooch that bears his name and cartoon likeness.
Richard Nixon ran for re-election in 1972, beating George McGovern by 18 million votes. Supported heavily by the Committee to Re-Elect the President, Nixon’s campaign benefited from a surplus of materials, in particular one hundred different types of dazzling buttons, bumper stickers, and balloons that praised the President. McGovern’s campaign created quirkier items, including a pair of gloves that read “Give George McGovern a Helping Hand.”
Programs and Special Initiatives
Throughout the fall, New-York Historical will host a variety of engaging talks from distinguished speakers exploring the impact presidential campaigns have had on various aspects of American life. On September 20, Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, will discuss how 21st century America has become a discontented nation, wrought with “culture wars.” Founder of Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer will look at the 2016 election and America’s role on the global stage on October 24 while preeminent legal scholars discuss the American media’s unmatched ability to capitalize on public sentiment on October 29, highlighting Americans’ fierce opinions and emotions regarding the democratic system and political elections. General (Ret.) David H. Petraeus, in conversation with foreign policy analyst Max Boot, will reflect on the outcome of the historic 2016 presidential elections, outlining the crucial challenges the new administration will face in handling foreign policy and the global economy on November 21.
On October 7, as part of its Justice in Film series on pay-as-you-wish Friday nights, New-York Historical will screen the 1964 campaign film The Best Man with opening remarks given by constitutional scholar Philip C. Bobbitt. An interactive workshop for educators will be held on October 19, in which participants will view the objects on display in Campaigning for the Presidency, 1960-1972 and engage in hands-on strategies that can be brought into the social studies or visual arts classroom.
From September 26 – November 30, Roosevelt House at Hunter College will present See How They Ran: FDR & His Opponents — Campaign Treasures from the New-York Historical Society Collection. Franklin D. Roosevelt stood for office in five national campaigns—one for vice-president and four for president—mastering vote-getting technologies that seem primitive by 21st-century standards, but represented the most modern campaign style yet in American history. This exhibit, featuring loans from the New-York Historical Society collection, will present posters, broadsides, buttons, and leaflets that Roosevelt supporters—and opponents—placed on building walls, lapels, and automobile bumpers from 1924 through 1944. A special section of the show will be devoted to FDR and the radio—his ultimate use of new campaign technologies—featuring audio of FDR’s actual speeches and messages. The show will also explore how FDR broke the two-term barrier with extraordinary messaging, easing the president’s way to a third, and fourth run for the presidency. The exhibition will include public programs featuring authors, campaign analysts, campaign pollsters, and White House and Roosevelt scholars.
The Wright Family collection is the foundation for the Museum of Democracy. One of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive collections of historical and political campaign memorabilia, it consists of over a million-plus objects, amassed over four decades. Unsurpassed in quality and quantity, it covers all the major presidential campaigns―including every president from Washington to Obama. The collection also features material from major social causes and movements pertaining to freedom and democracy, reflecting the history of politics and political reform in America as well as central civil rights issues such as women’s rights and social justice.
The New-York Historical Society is dedicated to fostering research and presenting history and art exhibitions and public programs that reveal the dynamism of history and its influence on the world of today. Founded in 1804, New-York Historical has a mission to explore the richly layered history of New York City and State and the country, and to serve as a national forum for the discussion of issues surrounding the making and meaning of history.