Early History of Bumper Stickers

In 1927, Henry Ford changed the way we got from point A to point B. We replaced the horse and carriage with Model A and then quickly found a way to turn these metal pieces into a new way to express our thoughts. Henry Ford did something else for us with the car. He set them up for thousands of people to buy and as people began to have accidents, he added the bumper to provide some protection in the front and rear of the car. Combine this bumper with America's desire for free speech, and people have found a new way to advertise their products and ideas.

The first bumper stickers were made of cardboard and metal. These were then connected by wire and wire. In fact, they looked more like a license plate than a sticker. However, these were the precursors of bumper glues, as we know them today.

A change in the way bumper glues were made would come later. In the 1930s, Forest P. Gill worked for the Crawford Manufacturing Company in Kansas City, Missouri. The company had made canvas items such as seat covers and tires. The canvas was a sturdy material that was also very versatile, as it can be printed with ink through silkscreening. These inks were different from the colors that had been used in the past, as the colors would fade or run under the sun or rain. As a result, canvas turned out to be a great option for print ads outdoors. Soon, the canvas was used for outdoor advertising on canvas wires passing over shop windows and later they were used to cover spare tires and to turn them into ads as well.

After the Crawford Manufacturing Company went out of business, Gill chose to go into business for himself. Gill obtained some printing equipment from his former employer and started a printing business in the basement of his home in 1934.

Gill tried to wrap everything up and print everything from bumper marks to cans labels. The creations were treated with chemicals to keep them from expiring and weather resistant. As Gill's operation grew, he had to hire employees. Gill moved out of the basement at 906 Central in Kansas City. The store was down the block from the Savoy Hotel, where Harry Truman would dine at the Savoy Grill.

Later in 1946, the new trend of paints and colors was born. Inc. Brotherzer's Switch located in Cleveland, Ohio created these. They introduced new colors that were called DayGlo because of their bright, bright daytime look. Gill soon began experimenting with these new inks and creating markings with himself. These inks were very eye catching and advertisers wanted to use them to get more attention.

At the same time, another revelation was being created. This breakthrough was a new adhesive-backed paper that became available for commercial printers. On the back of these papers, the backing could be pulled out and the paper could be glued to a smooth surface. Up to that point, silk screen adhesives had only been used with water-activated gum papers, but these could not be worn in the weather and split over time.

Elsewhere in Kansas City, a printer told Gill about a company that used freelancers to advertise products being sold in regional territories by traveling door-to-door. Gill contacted the Nationwide Advertising Specialties Company, located in Arlington, Texas. The company helped Gill create an ad that would warn bumper stickers for sales rappers who could then sell them to various locations, such as tourist destinations. The bumper sticker quickly became the perfect souvenir as people bought cars after the war.

The first bumper stickers were printed in blue and black backgrounds. The paint was fluorescent and they brightly announced where the family had rested. They soon helped spread the word about tourist destinations located throughout the country. To warn himself, Gill placed his company name on the bottom of the bumper sticker he printed. It launched a product that would soon become part of our democracy and become a symbol of the first change.