Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 32


On March 19, 1895, in the dining room of the Forest City House in Cleveland, Marcus A. Hanna announced the Presidential candidacy of William McKinley. Cleveland businessman Mark Hanna is generally credited with the successful run of William McKinley for the Presidency in 1896. His campaign was the best organized up to that time. McKinley, himself, exerted little effort. Hanna arranged for him to stay at home in Canton, Ohio, to conduct a "front porch campaign." Hanna saw to it that carloads of flyers and brochures extoling the virtues of his candidate were distributed throughout the country. The numbers of buttons, ribbons, and other campaign novelties exceeded those of any previous campaign. The frequent use of color and ornamentation, along with the varieties of materials employed in their manufacture, produced the most brilliant American campaign items.

The 1896 election saw the first widescale use of the celluloid button, another landmark in political campaign history. The celluloid button had several parts. Its base was a round metal sheet over which was placed a printed paper disc bearing a slogan or likeness of the candidate and then a piece of celluloid. A ring was placed inside the back of the metal's curved edge to hold the paper and celluloid in place, and a pin was secured in the ring. The development of this technique allowed for great variety in the design of the images and the production of large numbers of buttons for less cost than equivalent amounts of medals or ribbons.

Central to the campaigns of 1896 and 1900 was the battle between proponents of the gold and silver standards. The Republicans wanted to retain the gold standard and adopted a replica of a gold bug to demonstrate this allegiance to so called "sound money" which they believed was crucial to economic prosperity. This was countered by the Democrats and their candidate, William Jennings Bryan, who called for the free coinage of silver at a ratio of sixteen ounces of silver to one ounce of gold. hence the motto "16 to 1" and the use of the silver bug. Bugs were issued in a variety of forms, the most interesting being the mechanicals in which the movable, spring-loaded wings were held in place under the body of the bug. When the bug's tail is tapped, the wings pop out to reveal the candidates' faces.

"If Elected..." Presidential Campaign Memorabilia,
Essay by Joseph G. Brown
The Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio, 1988

back to lesson

website design credits