Larry Bird, a curator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, agrees that social media has played a role in the decline of bumper stickers. For Bird—a specialist in American political history and symbols—bumper stickers represent the last vestiges of the old “hurrah” campaigns of the 1950s, which were characterized by parades, painted tractor trailers, and rallies where campaigners would distribute their wares. Today, campaigning is significantly more manicured for television, and has lost what Bird calls the “thingness” that comes with receiving a button or bumper sticker from your favorite candidate.
The bumper itself had only been around since about 1910. According to Leslie Kendall, a curator from the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles, the earliest bumpers “were springy aftermarket devices designed to safely bounce obstructions (like oblivious farm animals) out of the way of the car, often during attempts to park”—helpful during a time when the roads were less well kept and the drivers less sophisticated.
Considerable variation exists around the world as to the context and purpose of stickers.
Bumper stickers have sparked legal issues between people and states. A man with a bumper sticker containing indecent wording was convicted. The man’s conviction was reversed during Cunningham v. State (1991). The court referenced the First Amendment, stating “the provision regulating profane words on bumper stickers reaches a substantial amount of constitutionally protected speech and unconstitutionally restricts freedom of expression”
Various factors contributed to the development of the bumper sticker. Developments in material manufacturing during World War II led to the widespread use of daylight fluorescent inks, which were created by Bob Switzer and his brother Joe. These inks appeared to glow during the daytime and were useful to support various wartime activities; they were favored by early bumper sticker manufacturers after the war. In addition, the first commercially produced pressure-sensitive stickers appeared after World War II; new developments in adhesive materials led to the production of paper strips with adhesive on the back. In addition, the rise of consumer use of vinyl after World War II led to the eventual use of this material in bumper stickers.
On some vehicles, some stickers are like trophy signs of World War II aeroplanes, either of locations visited or actions completed.
People who opt to exhibit their individuality through these decals may take part in more acts of road rage. Colorado State University social psychologist, William Szlemko, found that aggressive driving is linked to the number of markers a person has on his/her car, regardless of the messages portrayed.
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“Shirat Hasticker” (“The Sticker Song”) by Hadag Nachash is an Israeli song composed entirely of bumper sticker slogans.
Early bumper stickers had printed directions on the back removable liner for applying them to the bumper of a car. Due to the movement of the vehicle and changing weather conditions, the sticker needed to adhere well to the bumper surface.
The premise of bumper stickers, he says, is “actual physical contact and connection through that thing. In other words, I’m giving you this thing with my name on it, and I’m looking at you and you’re looking at me, we’re interacting.” It’s a more tangible declaration than a Facebook post: Postwar tourist stickers said, “I went somewhere”; political bumper stickers say, “I care about something.”
In 1934, the Kansas City silkscreen printer Forest Gill launched Gill-Line Productions, the company credited with producing some of the country’s first bumper stickers. In the years following World War II, Gill began experimenting with new materials, combining an adhesive with DayGlo ink to create the first self-sticking bumper sticker. The new design was a significant upgrade from the paper-and-string contraptions known as “bumper signs.”
See also Bumper (automobile) Car Sticker Country tag References
By 1950, Gill had built a significant business selling stickers and similar products in the specialty advertising industry. The company’s first large volume request was 25,000 bumper stickers for Marine Gardens, a tourist attraction in Clearwater, Florida. But by the next decade, mass orders often skewed political: In 1968, the company printed 20 million stickers for the presidential campaign of the notorious segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace. (It has also printed stickers for candidates including LBJ, Kennedy, and Reagan.)
Sometimes, of course, those beliefs are outdated, vestiges of a moment when a now-obsolete slogan was in vogue; at any rate, a sticker always specifies a particular time and circumstance. Even though Forest Gill made the bumper sticker removable so many years ago, it can still be hard to get one off. Unlike social media, the bumper sticker still involves a verifiable commitment, and a simply stated one. “It says everything,” Bird notes, “while at the same time saying very little.”
One variety of bumper sticker is the country tag. This is typically used for cars crossing international borders, and is overseen by the United Nations as the Distinguishing Signs of Vehicles in International Traffic, being authorized by the UN’s Geneva Convention on Road Traffic (1949) and Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (1968). Often the country code is displayed on the license plate itself.
If you look closely at a bumper sticker, you’ll likely see a label indicating which union printed it—my Bernie Sanders sticker, for example, was made by Sign Display Local 100. For this reason, Gilman says, bumper stickers are often popular with Democratic candidates. “We’re making a lot of Bernie Sanders bumper stickers this year,” he tells me.
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But the bumper sticker has its origins in a very different realm. Before they were popular campaign tools, the stickers were used for marketing of another kind: vacation spots.
Early widespread uses of the advertising bumper sticker were for tourist attractions, such as Marine Gardens, Florida, Seven Falls, Colorado, Meramec Caverns in Missouri, and Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. Another popular advertisement was the “See Rock City” sticker. In the 1940s and 1950s, visitors to the site had a sticker applied to their car, which duplicated the famous signs painted on the roofs of barns throughout the southeastern USA. Tourist attraction staff would circulate through the parking lot, applying the promotional sticker to every car.
Simona Supekar is a writer and an English instructor at Pasadena City College in Los Angeles.
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Bumper stickers can be commercial, religious, secular, humorous, or in support of a sports team or other organization. They may promote or oppose a particular philosophical or political position. In some countries, such as the United States, bumper stickers are a popular way of showing support for a candidate for a government seat and become more common during election years. In others, such as the United Kingdom, they are rarely seen in any form.
The company has sold more than $2 million in bumper stickers this year, Gilman says, but sales of bumper stickers have been dropping. He blames it on digital and social-media advertising as replacements for the stickers, buttons, and campaign pins of yore.
A car displaying an “Obama ’08” bumper sticker alongside its license plate
A bumper sticker is an adhesive label or sticker with a message, intended to be attached to the bumper of an automobile and to be read by the occupants of other vehicles—although they are often stuck onto other objects. Most bumper stickers are about 30 cm by 8 cm (12 in by 3 in) and are often made of PVC.
It’s election season, which means an uptick in the number of car bumpers declaring their drivers’ political allegiances. The application of the political sticker is a ritual I know well: When I was younger, one of my first purposely political acts was to cover the bumper of my used 1991 Toyota Corolla with progressive-minded messages.
Variants of the bumper sticker have developed in recent years, including vinyl decals meant to be applied to a car’s rear windshield, and chrome emblems to be affixed to the body of the car itself, generally on the rear (the “Jesus fish” and its “Darwin fish” counterpart are popular examples).
Before bumper stickers, advertisers used other methods of displaying their wares. In the horse-drawn carriage era, advertisers printed on horsefly nets with the name of a business. In the 1930s and 1940s, bumper signs were printed on metal or cardboard and wired to the chrome bumpers. Lester Dill, promoter of Meramec Caverns in Missouri, was an ardent adopter of the bumper sign to attract motorists to his site. Using a windowshield decal was another option. These paper strips could be wetted and placed inside a car window. However, these strips did not hold up well when placed on a bumper.
These have (usually in the United States) been spun off into tags indicating a country with which the driver affiliates, or more humorously to indicate things like a region (OBX), support for rabbit rescue groups (BUN), etc.
There are some “easy to remove” bumper stickers and magnetic bumper stickers. Bumper stickers can be removed with a razor blade, penetrating oil or a heat gun. Home remedies also include using common household items, such as WD-40 or paint thinner.
Even so, there’s a benefit to the bumper sticker: While we are cloistered in the tiny, antisocial world of our automobiles, these bumper stickers offer us an invitation to interact with the outside world. In his book If You Can Read This: The Philosophy of Bumper Stickers, the author Jack Bowen explained that bumper stickers all contain an unspoken if-then clause: Behind a sticker bearing the command “Imagine World Peace,” for example, is the condition, “If you can read this, then Imagine World Peace.” It’s a formulation that allows the reader to get closer, to engage in conversation, to align themselves with or against a belief.
The first documented presidential election that used adhesive bumper stickers in political campaigns was the 1952 election between Dwight D. Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson II. Bumper stickers allowed citizens to show support for a candidate while still maintaining some anonymity.
Many experts credit Forest P. Gill, a silkscreen printer from Kansas City, Kansas, USA, as the developer of the bumper sticker. Gill recognized that the self-adhesive paper used during the second world war could be used to advertise promotional products in the late 1940s and beyond.
“How’s my driving” bumper stickers are often used on commercial vehicles so that employers can receive feedback about the driving habits of their employees.
Categories: InfographicsPropaganda by mediumPropaganda techniques by mediumStickersAutomotive accessories
More recently, bumper stickers have become a route for advertising and a few companies offer to match car owners to advertisers willing to pay for the ad.
A nice idea, but bumper stickers and the people who sport them are now often seen in a negative light. Kim Kardashian, when asked by talk show host Wendy Williams if she had tattoos, famously offered this wisdom: “Honey, would you put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?” And a 2008 study by Colorado State University researchers found that people who put bumper stickers on their cars tend to be more aggressive, territorial drivers.
And, as it turned out, bumpers were also a boon to advertisers for national parks, motels, and other tourist attractions. Capitalizing on the wanderlust of war-weary Americans who’d scrimped and saved and were now eager to drive their new automobiles, marketers would often affix bumper stickers on tourists’ cars while they were visiting the attraction, explains Mark Gilman, the chairman of the board at Gill-Line. They were often a point of pride for consumers: “It meant that you’d been somewhere,” he says.
Bumper sticker supporting the 1976 Gerald Ford presidential campaign.
The ichthys fish symbol, which represents Christianity, and its parodies are popular bumper sticker themes.
1 Purpose 2 Application and removal 3 History 4 Around the world 5 Gallery 6 See also 7 References
They have also been extensively applied to rear windows as well, where legislative measures have not banned such use. For instance in Sweden that is the normal place to put them and the bumper sticker is actually called “bakrutedekal” (rear window decal).