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The History of Bumper Stickers

Before the invention of the automobile, horsefly nets displaying advertising slogans were often attached to horse-and-buggy rigs. But the trend didn’t immediately translate when it came to early cars, in part because most automobiles lacked bumpers until 1927, when Ford released the Model A. At that point, many drivers began to decorate their bumpers with signs made of cardboard or metal that they attached to their cars with wire. In the 1940s, a Kansas City screen printer named Forrest P. Gill used his surplus of wartime materials — adhesive-backed paper and fluorescent paint — to create the modern bumper sticker. (Interestingly, the company he founded is still operating today.) The earliest adopters were tourist sites, who saw the advantage of having little advertisements driving all around the country. In fact, Gill’s first large order was 25,000 bumper stickers for Marine Gardens in Clearwater, Florida. Bumper stickers exploded in popularity during the 1952 presidential election when they were used as part of the campaign (think of those famous “I like Ike” stickers).  Interestingly, bumper stickers have been used in every presidential campaign since. Other famous bumper stickers that have stood the test of time include “Baby on Board” signs, “Coexist” bumper stickers, stick figure families, the ubiquitous “My Child Is an Honor Student” stickers, and various safety-related bumper stickers such as “School’s Open – Drive Carefully.” In 1991, a legal case involving bumper stickers made it all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court, which ruled that bumper stickers are protected by the 1st Amendment. Today, bumper stickers remain a common sight and are part of the cultural zeitgeist.

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