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A Brief History of Bumper Stickers

Over the years, people have used bumper stickers for everything from advertising tourist attractions to political campaigning. Even now, when many luxury cars don’t even have bumpers anymore, the bumper sticker continues as souvenir, school fundraiser, or method of personal expression.

1928-1940s
Most frequently, a “bumper sticker” in this time was metal or cardboard wired to the car
1940s
Day-glow colors and adhesive paper begin to be used
1946
Forest Gill, a silkscreen printer in Kansas, pioneers the use of self-adhesive paper for bumper stickers
1952
I Like Ike

1952 Eisenhower sticker, still with adhesive liner attached.

The first real use of the bumper sticker in a political campaign occurs in the 1952 Eisenhower -vs- Stevenson election

1956
Eisenhower re-election bumper sticker

1956 Eisenhower/Nixon re-election campaign bumper sticker

Ike campaign once again uses bumper stickers, and so does every presidential campaign since

1969
Finnish label

Country code label for Finland

The European countries require oval bumper stickers, using 1, 2, or 3 letter codes to identify country or origin.

1980s
The European oval bumper stickers become popular status symbols in the US

1991
Free Speech

The bumper sticker in question in the 1991 Cunningham v. State case (without the asterisk)

Baker v. Glover in Alabama and Cunningham v. State in Georgia (see image) ruled that free speech applies to bumper stickers – although the debate continues.

1990s
Digital and flexographic methods of printing bumper stickers come into vogue, making creation faster and less expensive

2000s
Edmonds WA label

For instance, come visit beautiful Edmonds, WA!

Phased out in Europe, oval Euro-style bumper stickers are increasingly used for tourist destinations, eateries, and other promotional use in the US

2010
KU archivist Whitney Baker begins to look into ways to collect and conserve bumper stickers to preserve the social and cultural history surrounding them.

Fun Facts:

  • In pre-car days, advertisers would print their ads on horsefly nets.
  • The original bumper stickers were made from paper and were easily damaged. The adhesive was gummy and hard to remove.
  • These days, removable or magnetic vinyl makes these stickers that are easy to remove without damage. You may be able to remove others with a razor blade (for those with steady hands), heat (hair dryer or heat gun), or penetrating oil. The many rumored uses of WD-40 include the removal of truly stuck stickers.
  • Bumper stickers are collectable, but not high value ($10-$15 for rare ones)
  • The Guinness Book of World Records lists the largest individual collection of bumper stickers at 4,131 by Bill Heermann of Lincoln, NE. He started his collection in 1984.
  • If you decide to collect them, keep your vinyl stickers separate from others (they’ll stick, even with liners in place), flat, and away from paper or silver-based photographs. Vinyl can emit gasses that may damage these.

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