Campaigns Through the Centuries

February to November 2008


February to November 2008
Every four years during the presidential election, our main exhibit explores the history of campaigns. The most recent "Campaigns" exhibit in 2008 focused on parades. During Benjamin Harrison's campaign, torchlight parades were very popular. We displayed several torches and paper lanterns from Harrison's time. We borrowed items from several other institutions and collectors to round out our exhibit covering William Henry Harrison to George W. Bush. Parade items changed through the years to include car toppers and bumper stickers.

One piece that was very popular during the late 1800s is the campaign bandanna. Bandannas and ribbons would have been carried and worn by the parade participants. We were fortunate to include several Harrison examples that are part of the recently-acquired Harrison Collection. Bandannas of the late 1880s came in silk, linen and cotton. Other similar textiles are handkerchiefs that are smaller in size.

Two early textiles of interest in the new Harrison Collection are a colored ribbon and a silk 
inaugural invitation from 1841 for William Henry Harrison. The colored ribbon is rare, as most 
ribbons for WHH in 1840 are printed in black only and usually on a white or cream silk. There are 
a few examples on a colored silk, but this one has red, blue and green in the decoration on the 
white ribbon.

Campaign Torches

campaigns-2Campaign torchlights were first patented in 1837, but did not really catch on until 1860. The "Wide-Awakes"—a marching club for Lincoln began organizing torchlight parades, entertaining communities in the evenings when little else was found for diversion. Marching clubs continued on through the 1800s. The Columbia Club was founded in 1888 as a marching society for Benjamin Harrison.

Torches come in varying sizes and shapes. Many were homemade, while others could be ordered from suppliers. The basic torch of the canister variety consists of an oil reservoir for coal oil or kerosene, a capped hole to pour in the fuel, a wick, and a wire frame or strap to hold the torch from a pole or broom handle. Few have patent dates while others can be identified with a specific campaign

The star shape was used in the 1860s. Rifle torches also made their appearance in 1860—at the time of the Civil War—and used through the 1880s. Rifle torches were used in "manual-of-arms" performances given by marching clubs comprised of Civil War veterans. Examples were on display in the exhibit. One of the more detailed designs is the eagle torch. One eagle torch is in the Detroit Historical Society collection and is said to have been used in the 1860 campaign. Another example is in the DeWitt Collection and is identified as being used in William Henry Harrison's 1841 inaugural parade.

campaigns-3Several fine examples of Benjamin Harrison torches were exhibited, including hat shaped torches and a portrait torch. Others found on display were a ballot box torch, punched hole McKinley lantern, fireman's torch, Harrison collapsible paper lantern and helmet (hat) torches.

“An American citizen could not be a good citizen who did not have a hope in his heart.” ~ Benjamin Harrison

Share Harrison's passion for giving and become a member, donor or volunteer of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.