The Smithsonian Is Tracking Down 2020 Election Promotional Products for Its Long-Running Political Merch Collection
To the publications and detractors who say the promotional products industry is nothing but "trinkets and trash," we'd like to quote the great Indiana Jones, who said, "It belongs in a museum!"
OK, he was actually talking about some thousands-of-years-old artifact or other-worldly item, but the sentiment applies. At least that's true if you ask curators at the Smithsonian, who are tracking down promotional items for the 2020 Presidential Election to document it as part of a long-running collection.
"Every four years we get in the field—go to primaries, conventions, pick up things voters are doing," Claire Jerry, political history curator for the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, told CBS.
What kind of campaign gear have you collected over the years?
The Smithsonian is collecting items from the campaign trail to help tell the story. pic.twitter.com/F5qbUYC2dp
— WLNS Newsroom (@WLNS) February 22, 2020
These promotional items serve as a time capsule of sorts to represent the overall themes of the election: What the candidates stood for, how they tuned into the electorate and what they want, the key issues of the time, and even the general sense of humor of the time. The collection goes back to Washington's presidency, depicting the changes in campaign tactics and the winners and losers over the nation's electoral history.
What this also represents is the evolution of political merchandise, starting from what curator Lisa Kathleen Graddy claims was one of the first popular items: William Henry Harrison's log cabin cup from 1840.
"This is really the genesis of a lot of the campaign material you see," she said.
The Smithsonian's collection of about 130,000 items includes the usual things you see today like T-shirts, buttons and signs, but there are also a lot of more unusual things like cologne, makeup compacts and soap.
"We think of the campaigns as being very disposable," Graddy said. "Once a campaign drops, do people even remember them? Well, we do!"
For a lot of visitors, it could be a fun blast from the past to see a primary candidate who dropped out and was underrepresented in history. For people in the promotional products industry, it's a constant reminder of the permanence, importance and evolution of the products they create and sell every day.