Advertising | Souvenirs

Pressed-paper sewing box, from about 1824, with an image of John Quincy Adams on the lid

"A morsel of genuine history is a thing so rare as to be always valuable."

--Thomas Jefferson in a letter to John Adams, 1817

Collecting souvenirs is a centuries-old phenomenon that evolved from religious pilgrimages and migrations of communities. It sustains memories and captures the essence of a journey, event, place, or individual.

Maintaining a memory of the presidency through a keepsake allows people to honor or own a piece of the presidential past. Souvenirs range from relics to expensive or unique items to cheaper, mass-produced toys, T-shirts, and mugs--"star-spangled kitsch."

Except for iconic items, most of this material is eventually forgotten or discarded by the purchaser or recipient. But it reveals much about changing notions of how a president can or should be remembered.

Mount Rushmore and Lincoln Memorial
All of the presidents were well-known in their time, but they are not all remembered equally. James Polk and Ulysses S. Grant were once quite popular, yet few Americans now visit the once-marred Grant's Tomb in New York. Fewer still know the name or accomplishments of Polk.

Other presidents have become icons, symbolizing the best of what America is and hopes to become. Men like Lincoln, Jefferson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Washington are celebrated by historians and enshrined in monuments and historic sites visited by millions.

Clearly, public memory about the presidents evolves and changes based on contemporary concerns. But the men who led America successfully during times of great crises seem to live on.

Courtesy of Library of Congress (Mount Rushmore) and Harry S. Truman Library (Lincoln Memorial)

Centennial presidential game
Commemorating the presidency through toys and games is not a new practice. As America celebrated its centennial in 1876, companies created games, like the one shown from the McLoughlin Brothers, to encourage children to learn the history of the presidency.
Lincoln Logs
One of the most successful toys associated with the presidency is Lincoln Logs, which lets children build log cabins that look the way the public imagined the early home of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln Logs was invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

Lincoln Logs lent by William L. Bird Jr.

Next >

                 Home | Press | Site Map | Help | Credits
National Museum of American History