Car makers began testing impact-absorbing bumpers in the late 19th century, but they didn’t become standard equipment until Henry Ford put them on his new Model A in 1927. That not only provided what a marketer called “cheap collision insurance,” it also created a dandy space for drivers to proclaim their personal preferences.
Early messages were on cardboard or metal wired to the bumper. Then in the mid-1940s a Kansas silk screen printer named Forest P. Gill used adhesive-backed paper and fluorescent paint to create a medium ideally suited to the message: the bumper sticker.
Their first widespread political use was in the 1952 presidential race, when Republicans offered the catchy “I Like Ike” and Democrats countered with “We Need Adlai Badly.”
Now bumper stickers are everywhere, and they say almost everything, thanks to several court rulings best summarized by a federal judge in a Tennessee case: “For those citizens without wealth or power, a bumper sticker may be one of the few means available to convey a message to a public audience.”
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Political campaigns’ use of bumper stickers may be declining as they focus on more effective ways to reach voters. But stickers are still wildly popular among drivers eager to brandish their views.
On the Internet, zillions of messages are available, at costs typically from $2 to $5. Among them are these, sufficiently moderate to mention in a family newspaper.
Voting is just like driving. / To go backward, choose R. / To go forward, choose D.
Hillary 2016 / Michelle 2024
Vote Democrat. / We’re not perfect / but they’re nuts.
Trump 2016: / Kicking a--, not kissing it!
TRUMP: The only Republican to say out loud / What Republicans really think.
TRUMP 2016: Time to put an adult in charge!
My state is awesome. / My governor is a moron.
If a bumper sticker makes you mad, be careful about complaining. A 2008 study by Colorado State University researchers found that drivers with bumper stickers displayed more road rage than those with no stickers.
Even God may be influenced by bumper stickers. Remember last May when South Carolina tow truck driver Ken Shupe refused to tow a disabled woman’s car because it displayed a Bernie Sanders sticker?
Shupe, a Donald Trump supporter, said, “I think the Lord came to me and said, ‘Get in your truck and leave.’” Shupe did.
Ed Williams retired in 2008 after 25 years as editor of The Observer’s editorial pages.