Political buttons are an American invention. The earliest political buttons were originally created to commemorate the inauguration of President George Washington in 1789. These buttons were made of “more than 40 varieties of pewter, brass and copper clothing” (Harper, 2000, p. 70) and resembled jewelry more than our modern political buttons. The invention of celluloid in 1868 would change the look and design of political buttons. The first celluloid, metallic pin-back political button was created during the presidential campaigns of William McKinley and William Jennings Bryan in 1896. The materials used to create political buttons have evolved from celluloid to lithograph (in 1920) to acetate (1952). Often these campaign buttons had the images or photographs of political candidates and catchy slogans or catchphrases. These buttons were very popular as voters proudly wore these buttons to show their support for a particular party or candidate. In the United States the slogans and catch phrases were created to elevate the candidate and ridicule their opponents. Over the years political buttons were also designed for use in social campaigns by various activist groups to be worn at marches and protests. They were also used to commemorate historic events or tragedies.
Political buttons come in various shapes, sizes and colours. The typology of political buttons include “picture buttons, name buttons, slogan and issue buttons, and inaugural buttons” ( Palmer et al., 1996, p. 52). According to Allen, (2007), in America they “began to lose popularity in the 1980s, supplanted by virtual communication” (p. 30). It is obvious that at some point in Canadian politics Canadian campaigners and activists adopted the use of political buttons from the Americans.
There are over 500 political campaign and activist buttons in the Jean Augustine collection. The earliest dating back to the 1960s after Jean Augustine immigrated to Canada, with the majority of social activism buttons issued pre-1993 before Jean became a parliamentarian. Jean proudly displayed her collection of buttons in her campaign office in Toronto. She recalled that it was a talking piece for visitors and often visitors would contribute and add their own buttons to the display.
Albert, A. H. (1966). Political campaign and commemorative buttons (Vol. 1). Hightstown, NJ)
Allen, M. (2007). Political buttons and the material culture of American politics, 1828-1976. Pacific Northwest Quarterly, 99(1), 30-33.
Harper, L. (2000). Button brigade. ID: International Design, 47(7), 68-71.
Palmer, J., Dyal, A., & Davis, J. C. (1996). Button up your social studies classroom. The Social Studies, 87(2), 52-55.