Quirky items from political campaigns highlight upcoming presentation at Shaler library
A year after the presidential election, political memorabilia collector Steve Mihaly said he thinks Americans are inundated with mostly negative political images.
His “Marketing the Presidency” presentation, instead, focuses on the bizarre promotional items candidates have distributed since the mid-1800s – Theodore Roosevelt cast-iron door stops, “Clean up with Eisenhower” soap, Richard Nixon shower heads and hosiery emblazoned with “I like Ike.”
These items will be among the 300 artifacts Mihaly will highlight during the event slated for 1:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at Shaler North Hills Library.
Mihaly, 63, of Gibsonia, has amassed a collection of roughly 20,000 political artifacts in his 50 years of collecting them.
His oldest item is a wooden James Monroe snuff box, in support of the fifth president's Monroe Doctrine.
“I think most people think of the word marketing as essentially a modern-day term. But politicians have been marketing or selling themselves, selling their ideas, selling their personalities, selling what they stand for to the public right from the beginning of political campaigns,” said Mihaly, a retired H.J. Heinz Co. customer financial services vice president.
He said the oldest U.S. political artifacts are pewter buttons, similar to coat buttons, from George Washington's inauguration. In later campaigns, paper items, banners, china, silk ribbons, and coins with embossed images gained popularity.
“Political buttons as we know them were invented for the campaign of 1896, so about 120 years or so ago. And that campaign was between William McKinley and a guy by the name of William Jennings Bryan. And so that was the first time that buttons, the kind that you would pin on your shirt or your lapel, appeared.”
During Mihaly's childhood, his parents often brought him to flea markets and antique shows, which he found “incredibly boring.” When his father bought him a set of political pins, it piqued Mihaly's interest; his hobby also occupied his time during later shopping trips with his parents.
Now, he said he continues to find memorabilia in the types of sales he initially resisted visiting as a child, through word-of-mouth or by placing newspaper advertisements for specific items.
His latest acquisition is always his favorite, he said. Most recently, he acquired two large bins of politically branded items from a former CIA agent who worked in the Situation Room during five presidential administrations.
“That's part of the fun of this hobby. You meet a lot of very interesting people, some are in politics – some are not – that have very interesting life experiences.”
Over the last four years, Mihaly has toured universities, historical societies and libraries, sharing his knowledge of whimsical political campaign novelties.
Beth Lawry, the library's adult services manager, said the nonpartisan program will encourage people to examine the existence of political influences.
“From political buttons and rallies to social media, how do we receive information, how do we perceive candidates and how important is image and marketing?” Lawry said. “Also, we serve a lot of veterans in our area and I believe they will have memories of past elections and presidencies that this will speak to,”
Mihaly said, “What I try and do is make the presentation light, kind of hopefully interesting, kind of throw in some anecdotes, items that the candidates for whatever reason introduced to promote their campaign and hopefully people come away from this and say, you know, that was fun.”
Erica Cebzanov is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.